Lydia Wilson and Oliver Chris in King Charles III

Lydia Wilson and Oliver Chris in King Charles III, Almeida Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson.

Founded in

1980

Artistic Director

Rupert Goold

Since 2013

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Profile

A small room with an international reputation, the Almeida began life as a literary and scientific society – complete with library, lecture theatre and laboratory. From the very beginning, our building existed to investigate the world.

Today, we make bold new work that asks big questions: of plays, of theatre and how we live.

We bring together the most exciting artists to take risks; to provoke, inspire and surprise our audiences; to interrogate the present, dig up the past and imagine the future.

Whether new work or reinvigorated classic, whether in our theatre, on the road or online, the Almeida makes work to excite and entertain with extraordinary live art, every day.

+ www.almeida.co.uk

Company type: building based

Company Type

Building based

We tour work and perform in our own building – one auditorium of 325 seats.

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Public Funding

£779,917

Arts Council England subsidy for the 2013/14 financial year.

Location: London

Location

London

Productions

5

Opened in 2013, plus 15 visiting companies/co-productions for the Almeida Festival

Staff

Core staff

Our Question

Are living playwrights writing a disproportionately low number of parts for women? If so, what can we do to address this?

The question arose out of a difficulty we have had in finding great leading roles for actresses, even in a climate where there are roughly the same number of new plays by men and women being produced. We wanted to test if our theory was in fact correct and, if so, try to understand why this might be happening in order to work out a plan to create more leading female roles.

What We Did

“Although our specific question was about leading parts for women, we ended up discussing and considering far wider questions about the way in which our industry works and how our day to day practices might be (inadvertently) contributing to ongoing inequalities on stage and backstage and preventing women from taking an equal artistic place at the forefront of our theatre culture”
Jenny Worton, Artistic Associate and Lilli Geissendorfer, Producer

Investigation

Tonic looked at every new play given a full production in a sample of 12 London theatres (Almeida, Bush, Donmar, Finborough, Gate, Hampstead Theatre, Lyric Hammersmith, National Theatre, Royal Court, Theatre503, Tricycle, Young Vic) in 2013. For each piece of new writing they noted the male/female character ratio and plotted that against the gender of the playwright.

What We Learned

There are roughly the same number of new plays being produced by women as by men but there was a significant difference between where these plays were being produced. A new play by a man is more likely to be produced on a large stage and a new play by a woman is more likely to be produced on a smaller stage. The discrepancy is even more significant within buildings with more than one auditorium.

The research also showed that across the sample of new plays produced by these 12 London theatres in 2013, of those written by women, 52% of the cast were female and 48% were male. In those written by men, 35% of the cast were female and 65% were male.

What We’re Doing in Response to What We Learned

We need to consider finding both short and longer term actions which gradually reduce the discrepancy and think about to what extent, as a venue with a larger stage, we are impacted by the ‘different stages for different genders’ finding of the research.

Although we attempted to explore whether it was possible, we were not able to adequately define what constitutes a ‘leading’ character, because different people defined different characters in the same play as leading. Without this information we are drawing conclusions based primarily on quantitative not qualitative evidence. That said, we did feel that there was enough of a difference in the statistics to make our broad conclusions significant. As well as aiming to commission an equal number of female and male playwrights, we also feel that it is worth raising the question of parts for women in each of our commissioning conversations. Whilst we believe that writers must be free to create work without the onus of fulfilling quotas, we wonder if there is an unconscious bias towards creating male characters. Consequently, we will aim to simply raise the question of female characters as we are in the process of commissioning both male and female writers. In so doing it will be interesting to see whether this affects the statistics for the number of female parts created.

Is This Work a Step Towards a Bigger Goal?

Ideally we would like to explore whether there is an unconscious (or conscious) assumption about the way we expect to receive narrative and meaning. We suspect that the difference in the number of parts created for women is less about the way writers conceive story as the way theatres programme work and potentially the way audiences receive it. The questions we’re interested in talking about in the long-term are to do with the notion of why many more stories feature male protagonists than female and the extent to which this crosses forms from theatre, to television, to film, to novels. For example, is the current success of theatre adaptations from prose an attempt to look for inspiration for leading female characters in a different body of work (as compared to the theatrical canon)? When we consider archetypal character journeys, do we simply have many more male than female examples? In spite of some powerful female characters within our canonical texts (Shakespeare, Greek tragedy) has the dominance of male characters given rise to a way of thinking about drama which is now at odds with modern society? Is it relevant that as an art form, we tend to look back to reviving classic texts as much as we look to the creation of new narratives?

Jenny Worton, Artistic Associate
and Lilli Geissendorfer, Producer

“The Advance programme helped us push forward conversations we were already having internally and provided a framework of peer and expert support to take these forward strategically and practically. Most of all, it reassured us that we were not alone in finding it hard both to pinpoint the causes of gender inequalities across our industry, and potential solutions to it.

We found the one-on-one conversations with Tonic’s Director Lucy Kerbel particularly fruitful in terms of shaping the nature of the research undertaken and the exact framing of our question. What was unexpected and particularly enlightening was that we also explored what it feels like for smaller companies and individuals to work with larger companies, which was interesting and allowed us to question some of the ways in which we do things practically day to day here at the Almeida. We’ve thought about ways we can be more open, more welcoming and less intimidating to those not familiar with the internal processes of a larger organisation.

Communication was also a topic we all kept returning to at each Away Day as something we could all be doing better internally and externally to share our values, and be more transparent and inclusive when working with freelance artists and individuals from the relative safety and stability of our organisations.

So although our specific question was about leading parts for women, we ended up discussing and considering far wider questions about the way in which our industry works and how our day to day practices might be (inadvertently) contributing to ongoing inequalities on stage and backstage and preventing women from taking an equal artistic place at the forefront of our theatre culture.”

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Why do this work?

The answer’s simple; things are still far from equal in the theatre industry...
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10 key things we learned

We investigated the numbers behind who is making theatre work in England, and on which stages. The findings were massive and far-reaching...
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5 key things other theatres can do

Practical suggestions for what other theatres can do to move forward themselves...
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