What We Did
“The fact that there was an almost scientific approach to Advance felt really reassuring. It feels that with the proper data we can work out where the blockages are and we can do things about them. So rather than it being this big, generalised, slightly fearsome subject that no one wants to get involved in, it’s feeling more realistic and one we can do something about.”
Jeremy Herrin, Artistic Director
We put out surveys to both male and female writers and to agents, we held discussion groups with male and female writers, met with Literary Managers from several other participating theatres and did some number crunching on our previous productions.
What We Learned
The results of the research clearly demonstrated that there is an industry-wide disparity between male and female writer’s – on average, female playwrights write more plays, get fewer plays on and get paid less. It was also clear that women perceive that they are treated differently because of their gender (60% compared to just 25% of men).
What We’re Doing in Response to What We Learned
Identifying the exact cause of the disparity was difficult to pinpoint but we did identify these key areas which we feel we can address:
- Supporting the current crop of exciting female voices from the studio to the main stage.
A number of very exciting female writers have emerged in the last 10 years, many of whom came from the Royal Court and many of whom our Artistic Director, Jeremy Herrin has already worked with. We want to ensure that these writers develop from the studio to the main stage which means investing in their development and giving them commissions which enable them to stretch themselves – for example giving young female writers their first adaptations of existing plays.
- Improving the way we work with writers on commission.
There was a clear message from all the writers (both male and female) that theatres don’t always communicate well with writers about commissions that are given. As a result, writers don’t feel they can share work at early stages, don’t ask for development time if they need it and in some cases don’t deliver at all because of lack of contact. Nearly all the writers were basically unsure of what theatres structures were regarding writers commissions.
- Improving the way we talk to female writers.
Feedback from the female writers, both on the survey and in the discussion groups, suggested that women are getting confusing and often quite off-putting messages from theatres about ‘what women write about’ quite early on in their careers. Several women reported being told – ‘women write this sort of play/men write that sort of play’ and several women reported being told their work was intimate and suitable for smaller stages when they felt it wasn’t. Several agents also supported this view. Women also appear to feel a pressure to ‘not write’ about particular subjects because they will be too female.
- Improving general writer information/first access.
A generalisation no doubt, but one of the more worrying things which came up from the research was that some writers had a worrying lack of knowledge about how the profession works and had some odd perceptions about what theatres wanted from them. This appeared to come from a lack of sharing knowledge with other writers.
Is This Work a Step Towards a Bigger Goal?
Our ultimate aim is to achieve gender equality in creative teams across our organisation. We will start by targeting writers, but intend to move on to directors where we would like to achieve gender parity amongst freelance directors. We would then like to move on to looking at ways of working with more female lighting and sound designers. We have already achieved gender parity with regard to set designers and core staff members.