Crikey’s anonymous tipster who last week expressed dismay at the lack of women programmed in Sydney’s Company B theatre season for 2010 was certainly not alone. A wave of dissent in the blogosphere has descended on the theatre, in what one commentator has called a “public relations disaster“.
Yesterday it reached page three of the Sydney Morning Herald with Neil Armfield having to defend his final season launch as artistic director saying, ”When it comes down to planning each season, you just have to go with the best ideas, the best projects that are out there. I had interviews with half a dozen women directors, and we actually offered three women gigs for next year, and only one of them was taken up …”.
But it’s not just Company B that’s on notice — it’s the entire performing arts industry.
In The Age, the Melbourne Theatre Company was also questioned about its gender balance yesterday. The MTC’s response was a little bit more extraordinary saying it was not the MTC’s responsibility to provide gender equality when it was a problem for the whole theatrical industry.
”It is unreasonable to expect one level of the industry to compensate for the shortcomings of another,” MTC chairman Derek Young told The Age’s Robin Usher.
It’s hardly surprising that this issue has blown up in the face of some of the country’s leading arts companies and all it took was a couple of young female bloggers in Sydney to bring it to the attention of the major metropolitan news outlets.
A young director, Joanna Erskine gave her opinion saying “… I struggle to understand how such a prominent and successful and LOVED company such as Company B Belvoir, has openly produced such a female-less season. I don’t mean actors, I mean females in integral creative roles — as playwright and director.”
And then a blog run by seven writers based in Sydney (and mostly women) opined that “… in nearly every instance female students greatly outnumber men. So what happens to them? At what point in the process are they being passed over? Do they give up when the going gets tough? Are they perhaps less committed than their male counterparts? Or do they side-step more readily into admin and support roles?”
And then there was the anonymous rant on Crikey that said: “Even hardened members of the theatre community well used to the boys’ club of the Sydney theatre scene were taken aback at the launch of the much anticipated swansong from outgoing artistic director Neil Armfield at Belvoir on Monday night.”
Another young director in Sydney, August Supple put the issue plainly by pointing that, “If you look at Belvoir as a place of equality — let’s look a little further,” and pointed readers to the Contact Us section of their website.
As Supple shows, the “creatives” in the company are all men and the women are all in positions of education, promotion and admin.
If you look at theatre company websites throughout the country the story is the same with a few exceptions (most notably in Western Australia where the artistic directors for Black Swan and Perth Theatre Company are both women).
Accusations of a “boys’ club” are extreme, but when you have the MTC saying that it is “unreasonable” for them to employ more women because that’s what everyone else is doing you start to feel like you’re in a time warp. And now heads are turning towards the film, television and music industries.
The arts need to address the problem head on and look at why women aren’t pursuing creative careers within the industry because the new found citizen journalists are starting to notice not much has changed in nearly thirty years. And for an industry that should know better, excuses are starting to run dry.