Australian Theatre Forum: Women in Theatre

by Jane

“Convictions and Connections” is the theme of this year’s Australian Theatre Forum at the divine Brisbane Powerhouse.  I’ve walked away from day one with a few more connections, and a few less convictions.

In the afternoon, I took myself to the Women in Theatre Research salon, and this is where I lost my convictions of the day.  Clearly, it is an issue I find very important, and one I have placed time and energy into trying to grapple.  So why is it that when I go to forums or panels about the subject I just walk away feeling destroyed and disillusioned and wondering if anything will happen at all?

Some of the more interesting points that came up were:

  • Who is asking the Artistic Director, perhaps executing a singular vision, to be accountable?  Do other people in the company have influence or is the AD closed off to their vision?
  • How difficult is it for anyone to sustain a lifestyle as a freelance worker?  How much harder is this if you’re a woman?
  • Making sure conversations happen with everyone at the table.  What happens if you’re never invited to the table?  So much of work getting made is about friendships.
  • The mainstage theatre companies are the most unrepresentative of our culture as a whole.  Should we be questioning their place in a modern Australian theatre context?  Are they creating work of interest to our communities?  Is there too much emphasis and security given to these companies?
  • Sometimes we are our own worst enemies because it is desperate and urgent.  Sometimes passion and bad behavior get mixed up.

Some interesting points of discussion, and yet I still walk away disillusioned and hurt.  Because:

  • The issue isn’t awareness: people are aware.  It’s blindingly obvious, and if they say they don’t know, they’re lying.
  • This is not the same debate that was happening in the ‘70s or the ‘80s.  Times have changed.  Yes, some of the same issues are there.  Yes, I respect you for what you did and what barriers you removed then, but the nature of the debate has changed.  Feminism has changed.  The way young people will talk and deal with this issue might not be the way you want to: maybe, it’s not your turn?  Why do I feel so bad for being a young person in that room?
  • If we’re talking about how women are too polite, why are we sitting there with our hands up?  Jump up; yell up!
  • Why is “quotas” such a dirty word?  We’re all asking for quotas.  We all want there to be more women in theatre seasons.  But mention the idea of quotas and people recoil.  Is this some type of political correctness?  We want more women in theatre, but we want you to be able to sort it out on your own?  It doesn’t have to be 50/50 a year, but can’t we have some sort of quota which is working towards parity in three years or something?
  • Having more women as writers and directors isn’t going to change the world.  It’s going to be exactly the same, but with more women writers and directors.  I’ve seen stunning plays written by men, I’ve seen stunning plays written by women; I’ve seen awful plays written by men, I’ve seen awful plays written by women.  Yes: in ten years I foresee us still having terrible theatre.  It might open up the types of stories that are being told, but by and large I don’t think anything is really going to happen.  So I can’t really engage on questions on “how will theatre be different in ten years time if we achieve this?”  Theatre will be different in ten years time if we change an awful lot more than gender: if we change race, nationality, social-economic factors… But gender?  For me, a cornerstone of this issue is men and women aren’t really that different.

What collective action do we take fix this?  I don’t know.  But I can’t handle the petty arguments and side issues that come up in a forum.  Honestly, it’s pretty obvious to me: employ more women.  Done, fixed, let’s move onto something else.  I won’t be going back to a panel on this subject until the language around the issue is significantly changed.

For more on the Australian Theatre Forum, follow #ATF_2011 and my excessive micro-blogging on twitter, and read the blogs of Augusta Supple and Cameron Woodhead.