No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Statistics and Analysis

In Brief: A Response to Julian Meyrick’s The Retreat of Our National Drama

While I have been vocal about my thoughts on Currency House’s Platform Paper #39: The Retreat of Our National Drama, by Julian Meyrick, I haven’t written on these thoughts outside of twitter. I have now briefly commented on a new article about the paper in The Conversation, which I am republishing here. I should have also mentioned statistical work I did with Alison Croggon in 2013 was cited in the paper, which Croggon revisited in this response to Meyrick. My response to Angels in America was also cited.

I was one of those who criticised Meyrick’s data, quite simply because it was incorrect, and I felt it irresponsible of Currency House to have not edited and vetted his work thoroughly. As someone who works in statistical analysis of artistic programming (I have worked with AusStage, but not directly with their database; and have used the database to support research for various clients, including the Australia Council), I was highly disappointed that no one involved thought to check the validity of AusStage’s database. All researchers should know that tertiary sources of information (of which AusStage is) need to be validated through primary sources. It was clear on my reading the Paper that this had not happened.

This was the issue: an academic, writing for a serious publication, did not feel it necessary to perform research in a proper manner. There were egregious errors. To say Belvoir – where some of the most glaring mistakes were made – produced no “New-Australia” work in 2013 was simply wrong, and ignores the very real work of the playwrights who had premieres with the company that year: Nakkiah Lui (This Heaven), Lally Katz (Stories I Want To Tell You In Person), Kit Brookman (Small and Tired), and Tom Holloway (Forget Me Not).

For Meyrick and subsequent editors at Currency House to have not noticed the discrepancy in the data saying the company produced no new work that year made me concerned, furthermore, on from what perspective they were viewing theatre in this country. It is baffling and concerning that no one involved has a strong enough knowledge of Belvoir’s work to have picked this up.

Everyone is done a disservice by the suggestion this data was dismissed because it was disliked. The trouble is not how to lie with statistics, but how to use them correctly.

If Meyrick does not like quantitative data, I suggest he stays away from it. The fact of the matter is his paper didn’t rely on the data he attempted to present, he didn’t rest his larger arguments on it, and didn’t refer back to the figures throughout the rest of the text.  I was mostly confused why these figures were published at all. He, and Currency House, would have been better served if Meyrick had argued where his strengths lie.

Women In Theatre Report

I speak a lot about how blogs are changing the culture around the way we speak around theatre and the arts. I think, possibly, the greatest thing theatre-blogs in this country can do is speak for and create a movement with speed and with power.

When Belvoir announced their now infamous 2010 season, lining eleven men and one woman up on stage to say this is the theatre we’re making this year there was outrage. This physical manifestation of the gender disparity which has plagued the Australian theatre for as long as we have had one threw a new generation of theatre-makers and commenters up in arms.

I documented the main-stages of 2011, and things weren’t rosy. I fully plan to do the same thing again for 2012, as soon as I have a sliver of time in my life. But I was just one tiny fraction of the national movement.

In 2011, two companies – the State Theatre Company of South Australia and the Queensland Theatre Company – had no women playwrights. STCSA’s AD Cook said:

there is no conspiracy, you just have to be talented, and the people who would hire you have to agree that you are … And that is the blunt fact of getting a job.  You just have to be good.  And the same with playwrights, they think “why aren’t you doing my plays?”  Well, I don’t think it’s very good. There’s always one answer, isn’t there?

By contrast, QTC’s AD Wesley Enoch said:

When you look at gender, women make up more than 53 per cent of the population. How are we responding to that as artistic directors? … When you look at the figures, then action comes about. QTC has no women playwrights in [2011’s] season, no indigenous playwrights or from a non-English speaking background. What are we saying?¹

Come 2012, STCSA has 54.69% female playwrights; and QTC has 22.22%. No one said this battle wasn’t going to be confusing.

It’s going to be long. And hard. And stressful. And, yes, always always confusing.

But yesterday, it took another huge leap forward with the publishing of the Women In Theatre paper through the Australia Council.  I contributed some of quantitative data to the report, which is compiled with quantitative interviews, and together they paint a national picture across the Major Performing Arts Group companies and the Theatre Board Key Organisations.

Please, read the paper. Share it among your networks. Take its statistics and try to make it better. And when it’s not better, call people out.

I like to think we’re part of a movement, that something is happening, that things will get better. But I can’t do it without you.

¹AWG “Raw Sexism at Play” Storyline Issue 29, Summer 2011

Mingled with regards that stand aloof from the entire point.

-France, I, i, 240-242

“Talk about affirmative acting,” proclaims Matthew Westwood in The Australian, making full use of the pun quota straight off the bat. “Melbourne Theatre Company, ordered in 2009 to address a gender imbalance in its productions, is to make King Lear a woman.”

Well, by Jove, they’ve done it.  That’s the way to save gender inequality in Australian theatre.

This brief article about MTC’s 2012 programming makes mention of how the MTC’s governing body, the University of Melbourne, insisted the company employ an equal opportunity officer after employing just one female director “this year” – which should be 2010, as in 2011, the company saw five women direct on the mainstage.

In the just announced 2012 season, four of the eleven assigned directors (of 12 productions) are female.  MTC general manager Ann Tonks is quoted as saying this was “a much better outcome” than previous years.

If we’re looking long term, where from 2005-2011 the company has had a strike rate of 20% female directors to 80% male directors, yes, things are looking up.  Yet, as I’ve made mention, in 2011, MTC had five female directors and seven male directors.  Which is going to be at least as good as 2012, if not better.  Although with 2012 currently standing at 36%, this still leaves the MTC nine percentage points below 2011’s national average.

Curiously, there is no mention in the article on playwrights. Between 2005 and 2011, just 25% of MTC’s mainstage shows have been written by women, and this is again the case in 2012, where just three shows are written by women – the three texts premiering next year with the company, however, were all written by men.

One of the three plays with female playwrights is Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls (1982), which is also being presented in a separate production by the State Theatre Company of South Australia next year.  With so much national dialogue of the voices being heard on our stages, I am worried (cringing, perhaps) that this show was selected (twice!) simply because it is the most obvious play about feminism.  And yet: it is thirty years old.  While both companies proclaim to us it is relevant, I can’t help but think has nothing new been written on the subject?  Must we continually defer our feminist dialogue back to the 80s?

I am unabashedly a fan of new writing: I think hearing modern voices on our stages, in that living artform that is theatre is important.  This isn’t to say we should never defer to those “classics”, but can we question why we do?  As a young feminist, can my generation be given permission to take hold of the issue and its representation at all?

But back to The Australian, and the MTC addressing a gender imbalance by casting Nevin as Lear.  From 2005 to 2011, there have been roles for 598 actors to tread the boards of MTC’s mainstage.  356 of these roles went to men; 242 to women.

One women in the role of one man will not tip these scales.

And besides all this, as director Rachel McDonald states in the article, casting Nevin as Lear isn’t so much “affirmative acting” as it is good casting and good marketing.  She’s one of the best actors in Australia: why shouldn’t she play what is appreciated as one of the greatest roles in the Western theatrical canon?

Having an equal opportunity officer is great.  It seems to be making a difference in the number of directors – although MTC still has a way to go.  It hasn’t seemed to affect playwrights at all, which is very disappointing.  It has nothing to do with Nevin and this role.

Gender equality in Australian theatre remains a pertinent and frustrating issue: one which, as 2011 rolls into 2012, shouldn’t be an issue at all.  Can we ask publications like The Australian to delve into these issues deeper, rather than conflating articles on a piece of casting news, some information about an upcoming season, and some titbits about inequality  thrown in for good measure?  I think we should.

Unpopular Self Promotion

The Festival of Unpopular Culture – the latest fringe festival venture to have popped up in Adelaide, because god knows we don’t have enough festivals (Adelaide count currently stands at 1,348,987-odd festivals per quarter) – has launched its first program to run alongside the Festival of Ideas.

I will be talking on the event entitled Rip It Up and Start Again: A Hypothetical New Beginning for Arts and Cultural Funding

You know how everyone complains about how the Australia Council devotes most of its energies to major flagships and opera? And everyone else gets, well, chicken feed? And when you try to debate that you get this whole series of arguments about how opera’s a great art form and needs funding and whatever? Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have a conversation about what things could look like, rather than a defensive argument about what they’re like now?

Well, let’s pose a hypothetical. Let’s assume every Arts funding body in the nation got shut down, all the money got put into a big pot, we were rebuilding the entire funding system from scratch and every body had to reapply from one big cultural slush fund. What would we do?

On the panel, I will be joining Esther Anatolitis (CEO Melbourne Fringe), Sandy Verschoor (Director, Festival of Ideas), Gavin Artz (CEO ANAT) and Chloe Langford (other young ring-in to balance out the fancy people who actually know stuff / visual artist).   We’ll be speaking on 15th October at 1pm at AC Arts.   I’ve been compiling links of issues I think are related to the panel on twitter under the official hashtag for that event: #FUCfunding, please join in the conversation either there or on the day.  It should be exciting.  I should get in trouble.

Along with the other youth-complainer of Adelaide, Will McRostie, I have also been involved in the on-going curation of a panel about the “real” youth of Adelaide in Child Exploitation.

Conversations about Adelaide’s youth always focus on Gen Y, those aged 18 – 30. On their lack of engagement with Adelaide, on Adelaide’s lack of engagement with them. But what about the real youth of this city?

How do tweens and teens interact with this city? How do they see the place they live in; where does it sit in relation to the world? Are there things here for them to do? Do they spend time in the city, in their suburbs, or at Marion? How long do they plan to stick around?

What are they worried about? What are they looking forward to?

This panel tries to answer the age-old question: is this city only worth living in as long as Justin Bieber comes to visit, or is it actually a great place to grow up?

Bringing together four kids from around Adelaide aged eleven to thirteen, the panel will discuss who they are , where they live, and what it really means to be youth in this city.

You can come listen to the kids talk on 8th October 2pm, also at AC Arts.

***

Despite my resignation letter, I am still powering ahead in an excel-sheeted-madness of theatrical statistics.  The State Theatre Company of South Australia launched their 2012 program today, it seems they paid some attention to the woman-in-theatre debate and their performance in that regard in 2011, with 4/7 2012 main-stage writers female, and 1.5 of the four pieces in the education staging crediting female playwrights. They have 54.7% female playwrights next year, which is nigh on unheard of, so good on them.

I’m thinking, however, the statistics will be more of a focus on georgraphics and year of premiere: these were actually some of the statistics I found the most interesting last year, so this year I’ll try and give them some more weight.  The current trend (spoiler alert!) is a lack of Shakespeare: has Bill had his day?

On this regard: if there are any young designers/theatre geeks who would maybe be interested in talking to me about creating an info graphic of some stats work, I’d love if you could get in contact.

***

For those lovely commenters from the “and what have you ever made?” camp: I’ve signed on to production manage my first play, which will be a new work by Emily Steel who wrote the award-winning Rocket Town for last years Fringe.  Like Rocket Town, it will be playing at RiAus during the 2012 Adelaide Fringe.  I’m sure I’ll be bombarding you with more information as we get stuck in.

***

And for a final unpopular promotion of another Jane: my dear friend Jane Gronow, who has in many ways made me the writer I am today with her amazing support through the incredibly sadly now defunct Lowdown Magazine and her friendship over the last year, has taken over Directions Magazine: the national guide to tertiary education in Australia.  For all you budding artists/arts workers who want to study at a tertiary level, you should check it out.

The Gender Debate: five.point.one

five.point.one is an independent theatre company working in Adelaide. Established in 2009, the ensemble based company present South Australian premiere texts, with two productions a year since their inception.  In 2009 alongside their two play season, the company also presented an open reading of a new work by Caleb Lewis, and next month they will open their seventh production: Polly Stenham’s That Face.

The company currently has six core members: Matt Crook, Elleni Karaginnidis, Scott Marcus, Corey McMahon, Kate Roxby and Brad Williams.

McMahon has acted as director on all productions for the company to date, with the exception of 2010 Fringe show In Remembrance (of) A Small Death, two short plays by Anna Barnes and directed by Delia Olam, in production which had an entirely female cast and creative team.  Curious about the gender make-up of five.point.one over the past three years, McMahon asked me to take a look.

McMahon has directed six of the seven productions; Cassandra Backler has designed for six of seven; five productions credited a lighting designer, and Ben Flett filled the role on four of these; two productions credit a sound designer or a composer.  Lewis’ Rust and Bone, and Daniel Keene’s The Share had fully male casts; while the Barnes’ double had a fully female cast.  In total, the company has presented eleven female roles and fourteen male roles, to scripts by four male playwrights and three female playwrights.

In total, 32 people have been credited in creative or acting roles over the seven productions in 52 positions.

This can be broken down into fourteen women filling twenty-three positions, and eighteen men filling thirty positions.

With only six percentage points separating the number of individuals, and seven percentage points separating the number of roles each gender fills, women that are employed by the company are employed to an equal extent as the men: the inequality lies before they reach the company stage.

In saying this though, the inequality is very slight.  An imbalance in directors stems from McMahon taking on that role as one of the six enemble members.

It is pleasing to see the company statement says “We believe all good theatre must start with good writing and five.point.one places the playwright at the forefront of the creative process”, and in seven productions, three plays have had a female playwright and four have had a male, as it is in script production our female playwrights can find them selves chronically underrepresented.

Overall, I am very pleased with the current gender balance in five.point.one’s seasons to date.  It is great to see something much closer to equality happening on our young, independent stages.  I’m excited to see how the company continues to develop.

If I Were BossLady: Speak Up, and Listen

On International Women’s Day, I was invited to speak atBossLady: A Conversation About Women’s Arts Leadership. My panel was asked to consider the question What strategies promote a gender-aware, progressive culture in the arts industry? I choose to look primarily at this problem in the MPAG theatre companies.  Thoughts on the day will come later, for now here is what I said.

I think the main strategy is to question.  To question loudly and to question publically.  Question the right people. The artistic directors, the general managers, the board members, can’t ignore us forever and will be forced to listen.  And those who don’t?  They will become redundant.  As an answer?  Nothing speaks louder or more damming than “no comment.”

The problem with any strategy we are going to propose today is this is a global problem.   In the Greater Los Angeles Area, current figures are 20% female playwrights [1]; the US national average is 17% [1], as is the UK [2] average.  12.6% of plays on Broadway in the 2008/2009 season were written by women.  In 1908/1909, 12.8% were [3].

So this makes it easy for people to say, “It’s too hard.” So we should demand things should change.  We need to tell Australian companies that we demand better than what everyone else is doing.   We don’t have a shortage of female artists.  We have a lack of support, and a lack of creativity in curated seasons.

Read the rest of this entry »

BossLady

Next Tuesday is the 100th International Women’s Day. I will be spending my day surrounded by wonderful women at Vitalstatistix’s BossLady in the Fringe Club.

I will also be speaking. I’m a tad worried about this. Honoured to be asked, absolutely. But a bit worried I will at some stage want to say “and this is why I am a writer…” But if you like things like women and the arts then you should come and hear some amazing women talk about their experience and opinions and ideas for the future.

Anyway! On to the Press Release!

26 years ago Vitalstatistix was founded by three visionary women, who improved opportunities for women in the arts industry in Adelaide. In 2011, on the one hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD), Vitalstatistix Theatre Company is championing women making art and art made by women by presenting BossLady: a conversation about women’s arts leadership at the Fringe Club (Rymill Park).

Around Australia, women in theatre have been discussing the barriers to their career advancement, and industry bosses have been dusting off their EO policies. Yes, it’s true – gender and feminism is back on the table. Yet despite this, in 2011, the eight Major Performing Arts Group members are presenting shows primarily created by men. 16% of the works are written by women and 39% are directed by women. In leadership positions (Artistic Director or Associate Director), women are employed in just 17.6% of roles. On the other side of the coin, women, and creative teams led by women, are presenting extraordinary independent work, on the smell of oily rags, around the country.

BossLady will focus on the experiences and voices of independent artists – from their individual career experiences to their ideas around what kind of strategies can promote a more gender-aware and progressive culture in the arts industry.

Hosted by writer, broadcaster, musician and feminist-trouble-maker, Clementine Ford, BossLady will feature three panels of speakers in the course of the day. Artists contributing to the conversation include Daisy Brown (The Misery Children), Gaelle Mellis (Ladykillers), Sarah Dunn (ActNow Theatre), Jane Howard (theatre reviewer & blogger), Brown Council and of course, the Vitals BossLadies, Emma Webb (Creative Producer) and Jennifer Greer Holmes (Managing Producer).

Emma said, “BossLady is a big conversation. It’s more than just career advancement we are talking about – although that is very important. It’s also about the place women artists occupy in our industry’s own culture. This conversation is going to be feisty and affirming for women artists – get along to have a say.”

Jennifer said, “Unfortunately, BossLady is a necessary conversation to have. It’s appalling that in 2011 the issues that need resolving such as flexibility of work hours, caring/ parenting, discrimination and wage parity remain.”

With a TV talk show format, social media commentary on Twitter encouraged (#vitalbosslady is the official hashtag) and entertainment by Brown Council, Jo Zealand and more, BossLady will provoke thought, stimulate conversation and will be honest, loud and, no doubt, vibrant.

WHAT: BossLady, a conversation about women’s arts leadership.

WHEN: Tuesday, 8th March (International Women’s Day) 11am – 5pm (I’ll be on the panel at 3:30pm), followed by performances and drinks until 8pm.

WHERE: Fringe Club Mullawirraburka, Rymill Park, Adelaide

HOW MUCH: FREE (donations gratefully received) RSVP to admin@vitalstatistix.com.au by March 4th.

To celebrate I made some graphs demonstrating the gender break down in the key creative roles of Director and Playwright at the State Theatre Company of South Australia over the twelve years to 2011!  Aren’t you all jealous you don’t have my life?

All information compiled from Annual Reports, most available for download here.  The differences under the artistic directorships of Rosalba Clemente and Adam Cook are striking.  I honestly wasn’t thinking I would get any results like this when I compiled the data; I was expecting the results over the twelve years to more or less conform to the national data I compiled for 2011.  I don’t even know what to say about these results.  Over five years of Clemente’s AD, the numbers for woman playwrights and directors is significantly higher than the 2011 national average, while, at best under Cook, numbers conform to the national average.  Does this mean the whole issue is just a question of leadership in the MPAG?  I think I might be talking about this a bit next Tuesday (mainly because I have no idea what I will be talking about!).

Hope to see you there!

Update: You can read my speech here.

If you’re not Shakespeare, it’s good to be Brecht (or Lally Katz)

An analysis of Australian Theatre in 2011 through the Major Performing Arts Group theatre companies.
Update #1: 14/11/2010, Malthouse Season Two: Three female directors, four male directors; four male writers, one female writer, one male/female pair; five world premieres, one text from 2010; all Australian works.

1. An introduction and a context
2. What ever happened to the female playwright?
3. Directors: The female strikes back!
4. The classic or the new, what wins out?  (And what are the classics, anyway?)
5. The curse of a premiere culture
6. Oh, the places you will go!
7. Where to from here?

 

An introduction and a context

This all started for me when at the Woman and Theatre panel at RightAct I started to look at where the work I was seeing in 2010 was coming from in terms of writers and directors.

I then began to wonder if the bias I was seeing was a true indication of the bias in the industry, or if it was the plays I was selecting.  This lead me to creating two studies of 2011 theatre: the productions of the Major Performing Arts Group (MPAG), and the productions we will be seeing in Adelaide.  This is my write up of the MPAG productions.

Read the rest of this entry »

RightAct10 Day One: Women and Theatre

RightAct10 kicked off last night at Format, and continues tonight at 7pm.  Last night opened with a moved reading of Seven Jewish Children, followed by a panel on women in theatre.

I found it a hard piece to watch, primarily because I don’t know a lot of the details about the Israel/Palestine debate, and so I was simultaneously trying to watch and take in the piece while sorting through my mind, trying to anchor the sections of the script to the moments of history they are referring to.

I’m not going to get into a discussion on the themes of the play on my blog, because, love it as I do, writing on the internet is not a safe place to explore my very confused and not fully formed issues on the conflict (to read me being political, scroll down and read about my feminist opinions).  I appreciate Churchill’s script for giving me something to think about, but personally I got more out of My Name Is Rachel Corrie at the Adelaide Fringe this year.  I hope I will be able to sort though my thoughts and write some more about it in the coming days.

The Woman and Theatre debate, in my eyes, really came to the forefront of debate amongst the Australian Theatre Community at the announcement of Company B’s 2010 season, where there was just one woman in a creative leadership (writer/director) role.   Since then there have been talks in Melbourne and Sydney, online and on the radio, and last night RightAct10 brought the debate to Adelaide.

Anne Thompson from The Eleventh Hour and Flinders Drama Centre, Catherine Fitzgerald, recently announced as the STCSA’s new Associate Director for 2011, and Jennifer Greer Holmes, executive producer from Vitalstatistix, made up the panel, and some great issues and opinions were raised and discussed (both among the panel and off the floor), but unfortunately in my eyes, at moments, the debate steered away from the roles and positions of women in theatre, and onto what type of feminism we should subscribe to.

Read the rest of this entry »