Mae Munuo as Mrs Lovett and Oliver Ward as Sweeney Todd in the New Wolsey Young Company's production of Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim. Photo: Richard Davenport.

Founded in

2000

Artistic Director

Peter Rowe

Since 2000 along with Sarah Holmes, Chief Executive

New Wolsey Theatre logo

Profile

Our mission is to create, develop and produce a vital and dynamic programme of theatre, and other live performances and projects, for all the people of Suffolk and surrounding areas. We combine our own productions, projects, collaborations with other partners and touring work, to create a programme of performances and creative learning projects of the highest quality, maximum diversity and greatest possible accessibility, within a sound and sustainable financial framework.

We aim to create a theatre that is welcoming, inclusive and open to all sections of the community. To create work that both satisfies and challenges the theatre’s audiences, developing new artists, new work and new ways of working.

We offer opportunities to develop theatre and performance skills, particularly to young people and other social and cultural groups who are currently under represented.

+ www.wolseytheatre.co.uk

Building based, three spaces

Company Type

Building based

We tour work and perform in our own building: New Wolsey Theatre (400 capacity), New Wolsey Studio (104 capacity) and High Street Exhibition Gallery (flexible space, approx 80 capacity).

New Wolsey Theatre - Total subsidy from Arts Council England in the 2015/16 financial year

Public Funding

£853,028

Total subsidy from Arts Council England in the 2015/16 financial year

Ipswich, Suffolk

Location

Ipswich, Suffolk

Productions

6

Staged in the 2015/16 financial year

Staff

Staff - New Wolsey Theatre

Our Question

How can we build on what we have learnt and achieved through our work on disability, so that when we make creative decisions we are fully conscious of the need to ensure a mixed gender environment?

The New Wolsey Theatre (NWT) has always strived to be at the forefront of creating an environment which is inclusive, diverse and accessible through all aspects of the organisation, as well as aiming to inspire the same principles within the wider sector. NWT’s mission is to create a programme of the highest quality, maximum diversity and greatest possible accessibility, and this has been reflected in the theatre’s activity, particularly through the NWT’s work on disability.

Having established an Agent for Change programme, consisting of auditing the organisations processes and activity, alongside the employment of Agents for Change to help drive this shift in organisational culture, NWT has become a leader in this field, and as the lead partner on the Arts Council funded Ramps on the Moon project, is driving change in the mainstream theatre sector. We therefore wanted to use the basis of this work, to look at how we could affect the same change in relation to gender equality.

What We Did

“Undertaking the Advance programme with the cohort of other performing arts organisations has provided invaluable sharing, relationship building and acted as a vital sounding board in the development of tools and practices towards a step change, leading to increased gender equality. What struck me from the Advance Away Days, was the clear acknowledgement of this issue within the sector and the collective commitment to implement new practices, despite working and time pressures, to help instigate change.

We have experienced first-hand, through our work to increase the representation of D/deaf and disabled individuals, that true sectoral change takes time, but can begin to be achieved if kept conscious in the minds of organisational decision makers. I hope to see, as a result of this programme, a sustained and increased representation of women across all roles within the sector, to the point where in the longer term, these conversations and initiatives will no longer be needed!”
Lorna Owen, Human Resources and Administration Manager

Investigation

Whilst the statistics of our core workforce display a fairly even gender split (52% male / 48% female), evidence from our gender tracker highlighted a clear underrepresentation of women within NWT’s casts and creative teams, as you can see from our statistics.

What We Learned

As part of the Advance programme, Tonic Theatre conducted workshops and interviews with our staff, wider conversation and interviews, reading and research online, and gathered academic input to assist in informing our actions going forward. Areas highlighted within Tonic’s research as to why there may be a gender imbalance included role models, unconscious bias and the way in which creative decisions are made, in relation to both our creative teams and the work put on the stage.

What We’re Doing in Response to What We Learned

As a result of Tonic’s findings, NWT has developed an action plan which aims to increase awareness across the whole organisation of questions of gender in ways that will enable incremental and sustainable (ie permanent) change.

Rather than attempting to reach a designated target, instead the aim will be a constant vigilance about what the NWT is ‘saying’ about gender via the numbers of women it employs (and in which roles), and in the way gender is represented on our stages. Those responsible for NWT’s programming and creating of produced work now fill out a ‘gender representation analysis’ as part of the programming process – a questionnaire attached to a database allowing comparison of the representation of women in shows not only in terms of numbers participating in creative roles, but also how women are represented on stage. Using this tool, NWT plans to increase the female narratives and perspectives within the stories told on our stages.

In addition, we are also aiming to increase women within the creative teams and casts for NWT productions, benchmarked against baseline figures from the gender tracker. The gender tracker will be maintained and, as improvement is seen, the new figures will be taken as the new baseline, against which future success will be measured. This we hope will enable continuous shift, and prevent a slow-down once some change has occurred. Alongside this, NWT will also provide unconscious bias training to all staff in order to help promote more informed decision making.

Peter Rowe, Artistic Director

“Like a healthy lifestyle, a healthy gender balance is something you’re convinced you’re pursuing until someone shows you a picture of yourself. It is easy to believe that we are naturally open and accessible organisations until the evidence proves otherwise. In our case, the investigation into this systemic imbalance has led through questions of choice of creative personnel and recruitment towards an investigation into the stories we tell and the meanings they explicitly, or implicitly, contain.

It has been really instructive to work with other organisations through this process – to share ideas, insights and examples of good practice. Most important though has been the solidarity gained simply from sister organisations prepared to face the unacceptable current situation, open up the facts of their own practice to each other and affirm a determination to change.

For myself the Advance programme has made it clear that, like other forms of bias or inaccessibility, gender imbalance is systemic within our industry and the solution needs to be systemic too – an incremental but irreversible improvement in those pie charts is what we must achieve. Amongst all the other pressures on planning and programming it can be easy, or convenient, for questions of gender balance to be squeezed aside. The great benefit of the Advance programme has been that it feels we are now part of a growing movement determined to change that.”

New Wolsey Theatre creative team statistics

Zoe Svensden, Artistic Associate

“What has felt particularly exciting about the structure of Advance, is the way that it has made it feel thoroughly legitimate to be concerned about the systemic inequalities that mean that despite being 50% of the population, women are too frequently far fewer in number when it comes to positions of power, both on stage and off.

There is further the odd, and difficult-to-quantify, situation that a play may well have female characters in it, but they are ciphers for telling a story from the perspective of someone who happens to be male. Thus even when female characters are present, women can remain underrepresented. Further, different performance genres have different demands in terms of realism or social plausibility, so the form that the imbalance might take is different. Similarly challenging is that we are used to thinking about access for audiences, and that is expressly not what is at issue here – the New Wolsey is I am sure not alone in attracting a significant female audience. But a female audience does not necessarily translate into demand for female-led stories. Raising the question of unconscious bias was therefore important, and equally, that being female is no guarantee of being able to articulate, much less address, these disparities, either.

Being able to address these complex questions in a large group of men and women with very different perspectives but equal levels of commitment to tackling the issue, meant the work felt creative and productive: not just about redressing a wrong, but about provoking us all to be more creative and dextrous in our representation of human experience.”

Share

Why do this work?

The answer’s simple; things are still far from equal in the theatre industry...
+ More

5 key insights

Five things the Advance 2016 organisations are now thinking about...
+ More

Reflections

Tonic's Lucy Kerbel and Vicky Long reflect on what Advance 2016 set out to change...
+ More