Monday, 24 January 2011

Women Playwrights Overview

7-ON’s Take on ‘The Women Playwrights Thing’


1.     People who follow this blog may remember that 7-ON did a rough survey of the percentage of women writers in the seasons of the four major Sydney companies in 2011 – 5 out of 41 plays (as opposed to e.g. dance works as part of a theatre season). That is, 12%. (We should point out these are indeed rough figures – that’s why we’d welcome proper statistics.)

2.     Jane Howard in her blog in Adelaide did a much more comprehensive overhaul of the productions of the Major Performing Arts Group in 2011.  Her results are detailed but – an overview – of the 80 out of 88 scheduled plays that have credited writers, a female writer is credited with just 13, or 16% of texts. Of new works, 29% have a credited female writer.

3.     These figures are part of an international trend  - in the UK the figure is 17% - the percentage of women playwrights being produced and also the pay gap between men and women. This is in context of a nation where 52% of the population is female and 65% of the theatre audience is female

4.  In the US in the last decade 11% of plays produced on Broadway were by women. (But these plays did 18% better at the box office – the reason being perhaps that 60% of the ticket buyers for Broadway shows are women.) In 2009 statistics compiled by (writer) Julia Jordan demonstrate that shoes by women at major New York nonprofits for that season were 12.6 percent of the total.

5.  Europe. Statistics are a little harder to come by but, for example, in Germany, perhaps the leading nation for theatre in Europe, the major theatre company, the Schaubühne, has a stable of 32 playwrights, living and dead. Of these 3 (Helene Cixioux, Sarah Kane, Yael Ronan) are women.

In other words, this is not just a national but an international trend. What is going on?

To the point:
We don’t actually have to argue our case – the statistics speak for themselves. Of the limited opportunities for production of new work by Australian playwrights the lion’s share goes to male playwrights.

Responses to recent publicity about this issue have been uneasy to say the least. One comment was that the issue in relation to Australian playwriting is one of quality, not equality. Given the statistics, what this is actually saying is that the work by female playwrights is about (at most) 29% as good as the work of those male playwrights who are getting produced (however good or not those male writers are perceived to be). We have seen a lot of that produced work and we have read a lot of that unproduced work, and we don’t agree.

Someone also mentioned the word ‘entitlement.’ As far as 7-ON is aware most women playwrights feel no sense of entitlement that their plays should be produced just because they write them (or, at any rate, not more than any male playwrights do) but they do feel a sense of entitlement that they should have an equal opportunity for such plays to be both considered for production and actually produced. The statistics indicate that clearly they are not.

Another response concerned the notion that quotas – which were mentioned by some writers in the SMH article – are the equivalent of ‘social engineering.’ What was giving women the vote then?

We are prepared to assert that in the same way that the decision-makers in the major companies were/are hiring – or not – female directors – they are also simply commissioning and producing according to taste, personal networks and individual ideals and aspirations. We can see that this might be understandable, if regrettable, in terms of the (male) canon and box office pressures. It is not in terms of current new work.

We’d also like to point out that if it is legitimate to address the problems of women directors then it is legitimate to address the problems of women playwrights.

We simply want fair representation – that is to say – justice.

We feel that at the very least there does need to be some sort of structural or systemic adjustment made to give sight to those blinded by their own privilege. And some sort of formal accounting back to the funding bodies – a system of checks and balances - might a very good start.

And we also feel long-lasting policy decisions need to be discussed and then taken so that there is no chance that the equal justice both male and female members of the industry have taken for granted over the past years can be a real as opposed to an illusory one.

Two members of 7-ON, Catherine Zimdahl and Verity Laughton, met recently with Lyn Wallis, the Director of the Theatre Board and Program Manager, Antonietta Morgillo. We raised these issues with them. We feel that the OzCo can help women playwrights by collecting, collating and making available documentation and analysis of gender equity in Australian theatre companies; can assist in devising checks and balances for gender equality; and can help plan for a model of a future Australian theatre industry where both men and women’s voices are given equal weight. We are hopeful that this in fact will prove to be the case.

BREAKDOWN OF MALE/FEMALE PLAYWRIGHTS IN 2010 and 2011 SEASONS in AUSTRALIA (an edited version of documentation collected by the Australian Women playwrights On Line (AWOL) group of Australian women playwrights)
STC 2011
12 plays in all
1 by a woman – 0 Australian women
11 by men – 5 Australian men (written or adapted)

STC 2010
12 plays in all
1 by a woman – 1 by Australian woman
1 adaptation by a woman
10 by men

MTC 2011
16 plays in all
4 by women – 2 by Australian women
12 by men – 6 plays by Australian men

MTC 2010
12 plays in all
3 by women – 2 by Australian women
9 by men – 4 by Australian men

Belvoir 2011
13 plays in all
3 by women (with 1 being a choreographer) – 2 by Australian women playwrights
10 by men – 5 by Australian men playwrights

Belvoir 2010
7 plays in all
2 by women – 0 Australian women
5 by men – 2 Australian men

Belvoir Downstairs for August to December 2010
4 plays in all
3 plays by men, 1 play by woman (Australian)

Griffin Theatre company (new Australian works) – 2011
4 plays in all
1 play by a woman – 1 Australian woman
3 plays by men – 3 Australian men

(2011 Griffin Independent – 4 plays – one by a woman)

Griffin Theatre company (new Australian works) - 2010
4 plays in all
0 plays by women – 0 Australian women
4 plays by men – 4 Australian men

(Note that there were also 3 short plays – of which one out of three was a woman)

Queensland Theatre Company 2011
12 plays in all
0 plays by women – 0 plays by Australian women
12 plays by men – 4 by Australian men

Queensland Theatre Company 2010
9 plays in all
2 plays by women (1 an adaptation/co-writing credit) – 0 plays by Australian women
7 plays be men - 2 by Australian men

Black Swan Theatre Company – Perth – 2011
7 plays in all
1 play by woman – 1 by Australian woman
6 plays by men – 4 by Australian men

Black Swan Theatre Company – Perth – 2010
6 plays in all
2 plays by women – 1 by Australian woman
4 plays by men – 1 by Australian man

State Theatre Company of SA 2011 Season
7 plays - 0 by women.

State Theatre Company of SA 2010 Season
Eight plays in all
7 by men (4 Australian)
2 by women (1 Australian) (includes co-writing credits)

Malthouse Theatre 2011 Season 1
Note that most works in the season are not text-based works)
10 works in all
2 text-based works – both Australian women,
2 works choreographed by women
6 other works written or choreographed by men

Malthouse 2010 Season 1
7 works in all – one (co-written by 1 woman and 2 men)
3 by women – 3 Australian women
4 by men
1 by Chunky Move Company – collaboration

Malthouse Theatre 2010 Season 2
9 works in all
5 by women
4 by men

Riverside Theatre Parramatta 2011 season
11 plays in all (plus a few operas)
5 by women, 3 by Australian women
6 by men – 4 by Australian men

ALSO NOTE THAT PlayWriting Australia has roughly equal numbers – so women are being selected in that arena for development by a national writers’ organisation and are therefore being exposed in showcases to industry but are not being picked up in the same % for the productions.

PLAYWRITING AUSTRALIA National Play Festival 2010
7 plays in all
4 plays by women
3 plays by men

PLAYWRITING AUSTRALIA National script workshop
6 plays in all
4 plays by women
2 plays by men


7-ON said...

This comment was left at the end of a post (about 3 posts back) that wasn't about the women playwrights/under-representation issue. We’ve copied it to this post, where it's a better fit. 

Therese said...
Hi, let's play where are they now and think about women playwrights.
Taking the last 10 years of winners of the Patrick White Playwrights Award, there have been 5 women. Ningali Lawford whose imdb entry does not credit her writing. Patricia Cornelius work can be found through the database both published and performed and unpublished. Bette Guy has been writing for 20 years now and credits work with both professional and amateur theatre. Alisa Piper is only known today for her acting. 
The question I put forward is How important is it to make the connection from creativity to commercialism. Are we a generation of women writers with uncommercialised creativity? Does it matter? Do we want it to? I googles "women's playwrighting collectives" and came up with 1000s of entries. Maybe as women writers we are just working it too tight at the margin. I am going to vote for positives here though.

FEBRUARY 4, 2011 6:55 PM

Anonymous said...

The statistics that you quote here are alarming but you have left out the most important data. Without knowing the total number of plays written and submitted for assessment by men and the total number of plays written and submitted for assessment by women, the statistics don’t mean anything. If the theatre companies are receiving a lot more scripts written by men, then producing more plays written by men is the fair solution – otherwise men would be disadvantaged despite being more productive. This is a very big ‘if’ though.

If the numbers are roughly equal (which seems the most likely case but can’t be assumed) then there really is a problem.