The Process

Advance 2014 was divided into three steps. Before beginning Advance each theatre was asked to write a question they wanted to explore over the duration of the programme.

This was to give each theatre a targeted and focused starting point for their investigation and, following that, a way of helping them stay on track over the subsequent six months. After deciding on their question, Tonic worked with each theatre to help them break it down into manageable chunks, and to plan and carry out their approach to answering it.
+ Read the questions the theatres asked

Step One – Investigation

This step centred on the area of focus the theatres selected for themselves via their question. They examined how things are currently working, and sought to understand where barriers to women exist.

This step was about the theatres enhancing their own understanding and asking “why”; it was about them questioning their own thinking and that of others, and about exposing themselves to perspectives and information that may previously have been off their radar. Over all, it was about them being reflective and listening to others, not about them leading or needing to come up with solutions; that would come in Step Two.

Step Two – Innovation

Based on the findings of their investigation, the theatres explored and considered alternative or supplementary ways of working which would go some way towards removing the barriers they had identified.

This step was about dreaming up new ways of doing things, and of challenging existing preconceptions and the ‘but we’ve always done it this way’ approach. At the same time, any new approaches had to be achievable, realistic, and deliverable within the theatres’ already busy schedules and programmes of work.

Step Three – Action Plans

By the conclusion of Innovation, the theatres had identified something new they would like to trial, and produced an action plan outlining steps towards making this happen. These action plans covered a range of approaches. Some were:

  • small and time-limited, others were big and long-lasting.
  • designed for use in one organisation, others for the wider industry.
  • focused on the operational or ‘nuts and bolts’ side of how the organisation runs, others focused on artistic output or the creation of new artistic works.

+ See what each of the theatres did

Some of the actions

Away Days

Although every theatre was pursuing its own question, their findings were of course of interest to one another, and they were encouraged throughout to share their findings, provide provocation to one another, and look for opportunities to create future collaborations.

To facilitate this, Tonic led four Away Days over the course of the programme. These brought the lead members of staff from the participating theatres together in a focused environment and away from their desks, emails and to-do lists. Away Day 1 was hosted by the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, Away Days 2 and 3 by the National Theatre Studio in London, and Away Day 4 by the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon. The Away Days:

  • Were an opportunity for the theatres to come together to talk, share progress, make requests of one another, and feel like peers taking part in a collective journey.
  • Included input from guest speakers: playwright Moira Buffini, novelist and Founder of the Baileys Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) Kate Mosse, and human neurophysiologist Dr Elizabeth Healey who spoke about the physiological differences between male and female human brains.
  • Participated in joined up conversations, facilitated by Tonic over matters besides their individual areas of focus but relevant to how broader change could be achieved across the industry.

About Tonic Theatre

Tonic supports the theatre industry to achieve greater gender equality in its workforces and repertoires. We partner with leading theatre companies around the UK on a range of projects, schemes and creative works. Our goal is to give our colleagues the tools they need to ensure more female talent rises to the top.

You can read more about what we do at

Who Was Involved

What was Tonic’s Role in the Process?

Tonic was on hand to the theatres throughout. The biggest threat to the success of Advance was the extreme workload of all the theatres, and the danger that amidst the manifold time and capacity pressures already placed on them and their staff, Advance would get lost. Consequently, Tonic provided much of the legwork that enabled the theatres to effectively conduct their research. This broke down into a host of activities that included:

  • Accessing materials on the theatres’ behalf.
  • Acquiring information that would fill specific gaps in the theatres’ existing knowledge.
  • Connecting the theatres with individuals and organisations (inside and outside the theatre industry) that could help them in their investigations.
  • Facilitating sessions between various staff and departments within the theatres.
  • Conducting qualitative research e.g. running focus groups and conducting interviews.
  • Conducting quantitative research e.g. statistical analysis and data capturing.
  • Offering provocation, advice and guidance.
  • Being a sounding board.

What was The Royal Central School of Speech And Drama’s Role in the Process?

The process was tracked by a team of academics from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
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10 things the theatres who took part in Advance said was useful about the process

  1. Working as a group, and one which included organisations of different types and scale. This opened the 11 participating theatres up to fresh perspectives, and enabled them to work with those they may never usually come into contact with. They were able to discuss tricky subjects, trouble shoot together, and bounce ideas around. Doing Advance as a group meant none of the theatres were tackling their explorations entirely alone and they provided one another with support and information, for example, by sharing box office data, or being on the end of the phone for one another when they faced a particularly knotty problem.
  2. Monitoring their own numbers. The theatres were asked to chart the gender of creative team members they had employed over the last decade, an activity which, although not always yielding comfortable results, was incredibly useful in helping them to see where they starkly most needed to make progress.
  3. Being requested to set themselves a specific area to focus on. Each theatre was asked by Tonic to write a question they would seek to answer over the six months e.g. “what’s the experience of touring for women and how can we improve it?” This meant the process felt achievable – no one was being asked to tackle the entire topic of gender inequality in theatre!
  4. At the same time, hearing the discoveries the other theatres were making, meaning each theatre was only conducting one investigation, but was simultaneously benefitting from learning from those being undertaken by the 10 other theatres in the group.
  5. Being able to hear the experiences and opinion of freelance artists, but doing so via interviews, focus groups and surveys conducted by a third party (Tonic) and anonymously, meaning the freelancers could be completely candid about their experiences working in those theatres and the wider industry.
  6. Being required to work to a series of deadlines over the six months. Otherwise, the theatres said, gender equality is a topic that can forever remain on an organisation’s ‘to-do’ list, but can easily get lost in the midst of everything else happening in a busy theatre on a day to day basis.
  7. Setting aside regular designated time to think about gender equality and their organisation’s response to it. In particular, the theatres found the Away Days gave them precious time out of the office to do ‘big thinking’ individually and with one another.
  8. Saying they were part of Advance precipitated decisive action for some of the group. Being able to say to colleagues ‘we’ve committed to the aims of Advance so can’t justifiably employ an all-male creative team again for our next production’ meant creating change became easier and quicker; it was a given that, as Advance theatres, they needed to work harder to achieve gender equality and required the people they employed to do the same.
  9. Embedding gender equality in internal creative conversations happening anyway. For some of the theatres, Advance came along at a particularly serendipitous time in that they were already in the process of examining specific aspects of their creative output and programmes so made their focus for Advance relate to this – for example, the RSC was already exploring ways it could strengthen its support of its current and past assistant directors and as part of this used Advance to analyse whether there are differences in male and female directors’ trajectories. Advance meant gender became an intrinsic part of these conversations, rather than an ‘add-on’ or forgotten altogether.
  10. Sharing their successes with colleagues as a way of inspiring wider change. Some of the theatres in the group were already doing really positive work in terms of the role of female artists within their organisation. Others made positive discoveries or steps forward during the process which they wished to pass on. Advance enabled them to share these successes with others in the group, thereby increasing their reach and profile.

Why Do This Work?

The answer’s simple; things are still far from equal in the theatre industry…
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Participating Theatres

Advance brought together a mixture of large, mid-scale, and small organisations, and a blend of building-based and touring companies…
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What We Learned

Rather than settling for quick fixes, Advance tasked the theatres to understand not only where barriers to female talent exist within their organisations, but why
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