People & Ideas

Apr 27, 2012

Why are our theatres empty of women?

Why are there so few women in Australian theatre? In this special Cup of Tea, Ben Eltham and Rebecca Harkins-Cross examine the gender bias that still pervades the Australian performing arts

In late 2009, Company B Belvoir unveiled its 2010 season. So did the Melbourne Theatre Company. Belvoir’s season featured only one female playwright and one female director. The Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2010 season also featured only one female director.

In previous years, such a program might have attracted little more notice than the usual grumblings within the sector about boy’s clubs and a lack of diversity. But in 2009, matters came to a head. Female playwrights and directors started to speak out and to blog about the issue. There was, to use the metaphor that featured prominently at the time, a “tsunami of discontent” in the industry about the continuing lack of female representation in Australian theatre, which was crystallised in the 2009 PR disaster for Belvoir.

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4 thoughts on “Why are our theatres empty of women?

  1. jmendelssohn

    This cuts across all arts organisations. Last March I organised a panel discussion at UNSW’s College of Fine Arts on the topic: Glass Ceilings, Baby Bumps and Short Term Contracts: Women and Leadership in the Arts . The podcast can be downloaded if you scroll down the page on the link:

    I did this because I am so tired of seeing the careers of bright young women curators come to a screaming halt as soon as they have children. The response we had was overwhelming. There were students who hadn’t realised what was in store for them, and older women who had survived by diverting their careers. Most inspirational of all was Kiersten Fishburn, the brilliant Director of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, who gave good strategic advice on how to make working in the arts more achievable for women.

  2. AR

    Ummm.. coz females can’t impersonate “women”, proper like? Bring back the adolescent boys in drag for some reality…

  3. Monash.Edu

    The elephant in the room here is gender socialisation. Most of us know and accept that socialisation is a powerful factor in shaping identity and behaviour; that we very much still live in a gendered society. This being so, why is it so hard to even consider that more men than women might possess the ambition and desire to direct theatre or (for those who saw last week’s Cannes Film Festival lineup) cinema?

    It is far safer, of course, to blame gender disparity on institutionalised sexism, and I’m willing to accept that it may still account for some of the imbalance in representation. Structural inequality, only, be blamed for it entirely (or even primarily) if you don’t believe gender socialisation actually exists. It’s inconvenient to note that many establishment arts companies have rigorously pursued gender equality and equal opportunity standards for decades; but hey, quotas always make for good PR.

    David Heslin

  4. Monash.Edu

    That should have read: “Structural inequality can only, however, be blamed…”. Accursed iphone!

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