Sex and stuff ~ theatre notes

Friday, October 02, 2009

Sex and stuff

Fringe shows are now piling up, but not the wherewithal to write about them. Ms TN's got a headache, not of the hangover variety but of the Jane Austen sick-headake kind. I need a shadowed bechamber and some lavender water. But some pointers, all the same, and not only because it's easier to point than to think. If you want reviews now as opposed to later, click through at once to "John Bailey's" excellent new review blog, Capital Idea. It is, as the man says, "a very important blog and should be read frequently". Quite. He's better known to bloggers as Born Dancin', and to others as a Sunday Age reviewer of rare (if condensed) acuity.

Meanwhile, the big talk is women in theatre. After the Belvoir PR disaster, and Neil Armfield's patently inadequate defence, Melanie Beddie has moved the debate south by complaining to the MTC about their lack of the XX chromosone. Blogs and commentaries are catching fire up and down this wide brown land.

What do I think? A lot of things, actually. I have never stepped back from calling myself a feminist, but I hate that thinking feminist ends up imprisoning me in my gender. And I think it's quite right to regard the fact that women are so poorly represented in powerful mainstream artistic positions as a scandal. And I'm also thinking about the essentialist problem (women, being communicative mammals, make a certain kind of collaborative theatre, that is itself marginalised) and the quota problem (it is a step forward for women to be counted on the mainstream stages, even if in aesthetic/ideological terms they do as much for women in general as Margaret Thatcher did for miners).

I'm thinking the question is complicated because of the whole baggage of being a woman, which means millions of signals from babyhood, reinforced if necessary by psychic or physical violence, to stay quiet, to be helpful and selfless and small, to not put oneself forward, to never, ever, ever say how good you are, to speak low and soft lest one be called shrill and monstrous and not-a-proper-woman, to self-efface, to stay away from boring women's business, to hide your intelligence lest a man feel his balls shrink, to remember that to point out that it's a man's world makes you a man-hater, that an outspoken woman will get twice as much shit as an outspoken man, and will have to be twice as smart even to be heard, and that every woman knows underneath, in the reptilian bits of her brain, that the threat of physical and sexual violence is always there to keep her down if all else fails. And so on and so forth in all its infinite variety. And it's not simply about what all this does in the externals of making a career, but what it does to the inside: to what you choose, what your ambitions are, where you flinch, where you don't. And that it's the internals that really count when you're an artist.

And I'm pondering the fact that every woman will experience these things differently, but negotiating them is something every woman has to do. Maybe if a man is gay or black or brown or disabled or lower class, he might have some insight into the insidious effects of this conditioning. But not always. And I think that maybe sometimes, like Frederick Douglass, you have to use the vocabulary of power in order to have a chance of changing things, not the vocabulary of entitled victimhood, and I'm thinking that that is complicated too. And that it takes a long time to change the world, and sometimes those changes aren't as big as they're claimed to be.

Like I said, it's complex.

And while we're on the topic, we might as well give Bell Shakespeare a huge gong, since its 20th anniversary mainstage season - Lear and Twelfth Night - is 100 per cent directed by women. But maybe that's just smart, hip programming.


Anonymous said...

Last night I found out what contemporary feminism is. Apparently I have to provide financial security for my partner, by having a 'stable and secure form of income' while she gets to study and look after the kids. That I must deal with the spiders in the bedroom with her screaming in my ears (and my shrinking testicles at the dirty big bugger) and also maintain the entire exterior of the house/garden, maintain and complete the bulk of the household tasks, be completely responsible for full and timely payment of all utility bills, car servicing, maintenance etc and also be nice to all her friends - whose partners you might like to know are much better at being responsible men than I am - and if I don't massage her and listen to her emotional outburts then I am a cold male, useless for anything.

Now the truth is, if my wife didn't have a vagina, I wouldn't bother. I simply wouldn't.

Alison Croggon said...

...and what does this have to do with women missing out on key creative positions in top theatre companies?...

oh, that's right. Like Gig Ryan said -

...the man last night who said Smile honey
don’t look so glum with money swearing from his jacket
and a 3-course meal he prods lazily
who tells me his problems: his girlfriend, his mother,
his wife, his daughter, his sister, his lover
because women will listen to that sort of rubbish
Women are full of compassion and have soft soggy hearts
you can throw up in and no-one’ll notice
and they won’t complain.

Gilligan said...

Hmmm, I'm not really finding much of the discussion from anyone on the issue so far very constructive.

There is clearly an imbalance, but I can't really picture Neil or Simon Philips or mr and mrs Blanchett sitting at their desks trying to figure out ways to keep women out of the theatre so they can go hunting and drinking on the weekends with their associate directors.

Alison, I understand where you're coming from, but I don't think you can say Neil's response is inadequete. Why wouldn't they pick works and personel on merit. If they programed women for the sole reason of being women it would be reverse sexism. I think you made the same argument to Meyrick re indigenous actors during the Birthday Party debate.

I think a more pro-active way of looking at the issue would be to suggest particular writers or directors that have been overlooked. Can you name a few people that you can say deserve to be in the season over those that are? Are there female writers and directors making independent theatre being obviously kept off the mainstages in favour of lesser male writers and directors? Alison, you yourself seem to point to male directors when observing our leading practitioners, or is this just because the women aren't there? I'm not suggesting at all that women shouldn't be more highly represented on our main stages, I just don't find it very constructive when people point out the problem without offering an alternative.

I think it's worth mentioning the malthouse has been pretty good in their support of female artists. Also I think it's important to recognise the huge amount of outstanding female performers on our main stages, who's role seems to be being overlooked in this whole disscussion.

Alison Croggon said...

Gilligan - Neil's response was inadequate: it's not enough to say that the question is insulting and to dismiss the question altogether as, essentially, irrelevant. No one I've read is saying that he's excluding women on purpose, all critiques are sensitive to his achievements and place as AD at Belvoir, and yet there's clearly an endemic problem in the gender equity stakes. It wouldn't hurt for a start simply to acknowledge it.

I suggested in my post that there are several levels to this question; in particular, where I say "it's not simply about what all this does in the externals of making a career, but what it does to the inside: to what you choose, what your ambitions are, where you flinch, where you don't. And that it's the internals that really count when you're an artist". Perhaps it was a bit oblique. Or perhaps something funny happens to people's brains when they see the word "feminism", as with our first anon commenter.

The "alternative" ought to be obvious, and it's not my place to say it - I'm not programming a company. Although surely Bell Shakespeare is being a bit of a leader here. I think it's more important to attempt to work out more precisely what the issues might be, beyond simple number crunching.

If you read my post, or at least read it carefully, you'll see that I also have big problems with quota-driven gender equity, or with the ideas that some people have thrown around that women aren't interested in the big speccy stuff because they are inherently more interested in collaborative models of working (several women have said things along these lines).

To put it another way: as I've already said elsewhere, a notorious problem for poetry editors, which I have been on various occasions, is that women tend to submit poems for publication at a far lower rate than men do, even though they are just as active in writing poetry. When I edited the poetry for Voices, a magazine that came out of the National Library, they kept meticulous records of what was sent in; and women's contributions added up to a third of the total, a figure which was clearly reflected in the published poetry. And it exercised me for years that women were and are less likely to contribute to discussion than men were, even if they were present on the mailing lists I ran or was a member of. Why? It's not simply about men excluding women, or women not being there; there's a more complex dynamic at work here, which is much harder to trace.

If you look at several other blogs, Melanie Beddie's for instance, people name names. And here we are specifically talking about directors. In Sydney, they're also talking about designers, but here there are quite a few prominent women working in design in Melbourne - as you say, both resident designers at the Malthouse have been women.

Matilda said...

Hi all,
(My security word to post this comment is 'WANG', by the way...he he...).
I know we're talking about creatives other than actors here, but may I point out that, as a 36 year old actor, I was thrilled to bits with MTC's casts for 2010. It is notoriously hard to get gigs in this age bracket and It's as if MTC picked a floundering minority and handed them a mini-muffin gift basket of roles. Richard III, Boston Marriage, Songs for Nobodies, the list goes on. I was actually really pleased and impressed with their season.


Eileen said...

One thing strikes me in all of this: increasing the presence of women playwrights and directors in flagship companies doesn’t guarantee a blossoming of feminist discourse in the work, nor the development of feminist performance languages . At best it increases the chances of such. It seems to me this is a good fight but a very limited one. If the debate doesn’t include questions of representation and aesthetics in the work itself it runs the risk of being a campaign about supporting the careers of a small group of women with the promise that this will pay off for all women and that is a very familiar but false promise.
The totalising effects of global capitalism have delivered a defeat for feminism in general (even liberal feminism of the “we have a female deputy prime minister” variety has made only marginal gains), not least because it’s been appropriated by it. It seems to me this is why theatre at the level under scrutiny appears to have shored up its strength as a male bastion and women are still relegated to handmaidens and managers (where we get to really show our mettle) and, as makers, to the occasional theatre version of the “chick-flick”.Exceptions? yes I know they exist.
If I was to try to articulate one possible way forward it would be to the laboratory. Explorations of language, semiotics, acting approaches, spatial relations, design and so on organized around what we know of the nature of women’s oppression in late and seemingly totalising capitalism. And to use the tools of the most developed feminist theoretical discourses around. Some women theatre artists are doing this. The women whose work is regularly critiqued on these pages who are innovators in seeking a synthesis of theatre practice and feminist discourse-Caryl Churchill and Ariane Mnouchkine are two obvious examples-didn’t begin their projects in a vacuum or because they adhered to some essentialist category of “woman”, or because they wanted to be employed by Sydney Theatre Co. It’s pertinent that the social processes involved in their work challenge those reflected in mainstage theatre, attempting to make a break with patriarchal power relations inherent in the General manager/Director/Writer paradigm and the”great man” ideology that goes with it. Feminist artists haven’t gravitated towards collaborative theatre practice because they’re inherently soft and mushy but because of a belief that their liberation is bound to discovering horizontal and pluralist social relations in the making of their art. And the results are often big and speccy. Whether the processes used can be incorporated into mainstage institutions is another question-theoretically it’s not impossible, but it would seem there’s a mammoth struggle ahead.
Big topic, said enough.

Alison Croggon said...

Eileen, thank christ. I could fall on your shoulders and kiss you. Yes, yes, yes.

Gilligan said...

Thanks Alison,

I think you are being a bit hard on Neil, and I think the whole reverse sexism thing is important to acknowledge. In regards to Bell Shakespeare, their all female production of Taming of the Shrew had reverse sexism written all over it. I think we want programming to be a bit better thought out than that.

In regards to the output of female poetry writers and theatre makers etc is this because of some cultural repression, or is it in a womans nature to take more time and careful planning? I'm just not sure what your point was.

I can't seem to find where Beddie is naming names, can you point me in the right direction. I would like very much for you to name a few though. You clearly know both the professional and independent scenes here in Melbourne better than almost anyone, so if you think certain women deserve to be getting gigs who aren't then who?

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Gilligan

I don't know what you mean by "reverse sexism", but admittedly I haven't seen The Taming of the Shrew, which is after all one of the famously problematic texts... I guess you mean replacing a patriarchal structure with a mirror structure in which the power is held by women? If you investigate feminism, you'll find that has never been its ambition. Or - feminism being a house of many mansions - that's never been the feminism that interests me.

How am I being hard on Neil? I'm simply saying that his response - to be insulted rather than to acknowledge a problem - was inadequate. I do think, fwiw, that the MTC's response - total indifference and a refusal to accept that as a state company they have leadership responsibilities - is more of a problem, and Neil has obviously been a leader in terms of things like indigenous representation, so it's not like any one - least of all me - is saying he's Dr Evil. But it ought to be obvious that there are legitimate questions to be asked, and the response ought not to be an impatient dismissal of the issue.

I feel slightly helpless in having to explain what I mean. It's something that post-colonial thinkers as well as feminists note: the internalisation of power relationships and representations by those at the pointy end of them, which itself becomes an entrenched part of the problem. Is it really helpful, for instance, to have equal numbers of women playwrights if the playwrights who are chosen to "represent" women - as inevitably in such circumstances they are - only perpetuate the power relationships that ensure women stay second class? Etc.

I'm kind of reluctant to name names, but you can look some up here if you want. The reason why is that simply injecting a corporate system with a bunch of women doesn't necessarily address anything about the endemic structures that perpetuate the situation, and that to reduce gender equity - or for that matter racial equity - to a number of sidelined artists in fact sidesteps what I think are the real issues, which Eileen has very clearly outlined above, and which are not simple.

Tristan Sinclair said...

I think when Gilligan refers to the all female production of Taming of the Shrew, and Alison asks is it helpful to have equal numbers of women playwrights? you are kind of making the same connection. But I could be missing your points here.

I won't pretend to know huge amounts about this but my understanding is that women and men have brains that work in different ways. Some of this comes down to having XY or XX I believe, for example the amygdala (a tiny and primitive bit at the back of our brain) is responsible for processing a lot our emotion (anger, anxiety, and grief) when we are young, it has been found as girls grow they begin to activate other areas of their brain all over the place (such as the more sophisticated areas involved in complex language) when dealing with and expressing these emotions but with boys often they will not advance to be processed in such a variety of areas- hence women are more often capable of speaking about said emotion in a sophisticated way. Perhaps look to the first post for what I believe could be an example. Obviously scads of factors end up sorting out who we are and how we think and behave, but I think it is interesting to look at gender differences on a biological level.

Anyway Eileen has already said, far more eloquently than I could hope to, a large portion of what I was thinking reading through all this. As far as the question of Neil's response; I think he does adequately explain the exact details of the choices for 2010. I can understand why his reaction is on the defensive but this does mean he has missed an opportunity to discuss an important issue.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Tristan - I don't doubt there are physiological differences across a spectrum of sex (some theorists identify five sexes). At the same time, it's a dodgy way of imagining gender, which at its worst leads to the deterministic "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" crap, or that "hard" evolutionary psychology which is equally nonsense. What matters in any social sense is the values assigned to masculine and feminine, and what they represent in relation to the perceived sex of a person: in many cases, gender-assigned values that are considered good in the "right" sex (aggression, intelligence, say, in men, sensitivity, softness in women) are considered negative if they turn up in the "wrong" sex. And these values can vary wildly from society to society, or from century to century (gender was a very different thing in mediaeval times to what it is now); although in each case these gendered values are considered stable and unchanging, they are in fact profoundly unstable and vastly changeable.

And since human beings are complicated creatures, we are all mixtures of any number of qualities that are arbitrarily assigned gender, but which in fact have very little to do with our sex. Clearly many men are able to process language and feeling very well indeed, or we wouldn't have a great deal of our literature; clearly many women are physically strong and fearless and competitive, or there would be no woman athletes or horse trainers; but how these qualities are observed and how they evolve depend enormously on what sex a person is perceived to be. And each of us are trained from birth to be a particular gender, which inflects our behaviour in ways that I believe are vastly more determining than phsyiological tendencies, for both good and ill.

It would be a lot simpler if people regarded people of whatever sex as simply other people, individuals with their own unique qualities. Ideally this is what friends do. But of course this utopian wish is mediated by so many socially conditioned behaviours that it can be very difficult, partly because in all cases it requires admitting and letting go of privilege. (And not only for men). And so we struggle with all sorts of blindnesses.

Re The Taming of the Shrew: although I haven't seen the production, I do wonder about Gilligan's claim of "reverse sexism". I'm willing to bet it's not nearly as simple as that, as a reading that reverses the gendered power relationships in that play would be more likely to highlight their absurdities, rather than make them disappear as normative. In any case, reading against the power structures in the play wouldn't simply invert them, because it's playing against a background where those values of masculine superiority are normative: so normative that a lot of the time we don't even see them.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to say that while I agree with Eileen's eloquence on the larger issue of feminist aesthetics and performance - well said - this is not a question of whether women think differently, or have different biological imperatives, or any of the supposedly philosophical issues that usually accompany the debate when it turns up - as it does - once every few years. This is an industrial issue of access and equity that gets clouded by apparently 'artistic' judgement. Not for nothing did Melanie choose the university's Equal Opportunity statutes to confront the MTC - they may be a theatre company, but they are a business as well, and thus are bound by Equal Opportunity legislation. I know what the replies to this post will be - that I am oversimplifying, that in an artistic environment it's far more complicated than the application of a legal instrument. That tokenism is bad, that we don't want to force a numbers game. I've heard it. A lot. The same arguments are used to not pay artists a reasonable wage - and in fact have been used on this blog recently to argue just that. We do it for love, we do it for the good of a wider theatre culture - and to me it all sounds like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoon. Women must have access at a higher level, and I don't give a rat's arse if we have to use tokenism to force that equity. It's called strategic essentialism. And after having listened to the same crap for twenty years, bring it on.


Alison Croggon said...

Sure, Jodi. Though I guess a little divagation into Feminism 101 is always inevitable in these discussions, because it is so poorly understood. It's poorly understand because of popular media representations of what feminism is supposed to be. And after 40 years of second wave and third wave feminism and millions of words (and arguments - feminism is by no means a monolith) that's just plain depressing.

Nobody's saying career opportunities and access don't matter, and clearly something has to be done, because the status quo is appalling. However, if you pursue simple number crunching without a clear idea of what that means and what this sexism actually entails, both in women and in men, you'll achieve very little aside from creating careers for some few favoured women, which then will be presented as a victory for all women. You will hit some very familiar problems. You will be told that any kind of move towards equality is positive discrimination or a quota system, "reverse sexism", and ADs will argue that it leads away from decisions based on merit-based excellence and impinges on their artistic autonomy. You'll get responses like Armfield's defensive denial that there is a problem in the first place. And even if women do enter these structures, nothing substantial will change. Else how do you explain that this gender inequality happens even though in many cases it's women running the companies?

I think a more interesting strategy would be to make companies understand that if they are too blind to employ women they are missing out on the most exciting and accomplished directors. That they are damaging themselves by doing so. Because that is in fact the case.

Btw, are you saying that I have argued that artists ought not to be paid a decent wage? Because I have never in my life argued such a thing.

Anonymous said...

Twas not you but a commenter that argued that, Alison. And I agree with everything you are saying - I'm entirely aware of the arguments that will arise - as I said in the post. Companies will not understand that women directors are exciting as long long as those companies are almost exclusively run by men. As long as the artistic directors making the decisions are seeing women as outsiders, as a diversion, as some kind of bizarre minority, the decisions will remain the same. I know that feminism is not monolithic - and am familiar with the arguments for a more nuanced attack. We are way past the time for subtlety. A female artistic director would have a much harder time dismissing other female artists - though, sadly, that doesn't seem to have been the case with women who have risen to those great heights. Like you, I dislike ghettos, I dislike female only initiatives - I've steered clear of them because of all they imply. But I am sick to death of listening to the arguments that are reappearing again in response to your post. I suspect we agree on the issues - and I'm not talking simple number crunching. I'm talking the law. Take them to the Anti-Discrimination Commission. If we were discussing any other industry, any other supposed minority, that would be what we were talking about. This is a time for solutions, not just the same arguments we've heard. A different strategy has to be applied. Waiting for male artistic directors to visit the road to bloody Damascus isn't going to happen.


Alison Croggon said...

Yeah. I wasn't precisely arguing against that strategy, and it will be interesting to see what transpires. I just can't see how, legally speaking, discrimination can be proved in an artistic context, even if you know it's there: the law is a blunt and coarse instrument. And if such a strategy should fail, what then?

If it is to be pursued, it needs to be seen as a limited strategy that is part of a wider context, one which includes those nuances and also comprehends the many ways people are "othered". Otherwise the goalposts will shift and things will basically just remain predictably the same. (Though maybe with different names.) Companies - eg Belvoir - tend to regard such critiques as a PR problem rather than a requirement for thought. And the problem is essentially the endemic power structures in our institutions (and psyches), not particular individuals. Moreover, when the major companies are battened down and howling about their budgets, it's going to be even harder to move them out of conservative defence mode.

I'm not intending to be a voice of doom, but maybe we should learn something from the failures of the past few decades, from the fact that being a feminist means one is always repeating oneself, always beginning at Step 1 (or lately even further back than that). The same strategies that have failed before aren't going to work now, and if anything is to change, any action needs to be smart and self-aware and imaginative. And it needs to make its own rules, rather than to abide by the entrenched rules of received wisdom, or by the rules as they are practised by existing corporate structures. I do think it's interesting, in the mainstream context, to see what's happening with Bell Shakespeare since they appointed Marion Potts as Associate Director. And Eileen mentioned Mnouchkine...and Mnouchkine also brings to mind Cixous. They aren't just theorists, although they are thinkers of the first water, especially Cixous: they think and act.

Anonymous said...

As I said, we agree. Especially about Mnouchkine and Cixous. But I think this time around it needs to be louder. I can't remember how many times I've had this discussion - yes, we are further back now than we were a few years ago. But - I'm thinking that a LOUD debate is needed. Melanie has made a fine first step - and it would be good if she wasn't immediately silenced by the same debates we've heard before. I'm not sure how the legal debate would work either - but I think it should be tried. Against the University, perhaps. And yes, it's a PR problem for them rather than an issue of substance - but then, so is the VCA. Not an unrelated issue, I think. And I say, make the PR problem bigger. Picket, anyone? I'll bring sandwiches.


Anonymous said...

I think what people find frustrating about Belvoir is that Neil Armfield is so obviously proactive about including indigenous creative works in his programming, so the lack of inclusiveness of creative women is disappointing. His response shows that the issue is not one that he engages with or is especially concerned about. The response of the MTC chairman is much more offensive and backward. And when Simon Phillips states that most directing jobs at MTC go to salaried staff (ie himself or associate directors), what I want to know is, why are both the associate directors men? Change obviously needs to occur within these huge organisations. I totally agree with this statement Alison: "I think a more interesting strategy would be to make companies understand that if they are too blind to employ women they are missing out on the most exciting and accomplished directors. That they are damaging themselves by doing so. Because that is in fact the case." So many talented and created women are bringing fantastic things to smaller stages and it is a pity that their work isn't seen by larger audiences and that Belvoir, MTC etc are missing the boat.

Chris T said...

In organisations one of the newish buzz words is "diversity".

To engender the greatest creativity you neeed the widest pool of [empowered] experience to draw your solutions from.

The richer your ability to solve problems and create new options the better your work will be.

Seems like theatre is cutting itself off from the very thing it needs to survive.

Anonymous said...

You know someone should really do a review of Rosalba Clemente's time as Artistic Dircetor of the State Theatre Comapny of SA. Proof that such programming can work for a mainstage company.

Anonymous said...

I am very fascinated by the fact that, just next to MTC, there is no shortage of female teachers in the VCA theatre department - six females to three males, and the department is spearheaded by Kristy Edmunds. And I really do think that it is an issue for designers as well - bar Anna Tregloan and Christina Smith, it would appear that the majority of Melbourne's freelance designers who are in employment are males. And the females who are employed by companies like MTC, the Opera and the Ballet are generally found in costume rather than set roles - an awful gender typecasting that many designer friends of mine are exasperated by.

kim durban said...

Thank you, Nicholas Pickard, for your clear sighted questions about the lack of women directing for our main stage companies. Believe me, we women directors exist. It would be an insult to the many capable and experienced directors I know to suggest they are not there or that they don’t have main stage skills. But there are obviously problems with the way the selection of cultural product is managed in Australia’s professional companies. Culture is universal, both high and low in its concerns, free to everyone as an interest, and essential to the health of all. Women make up half of society. Men are born of women and often choose to live with women and create daughters as well as sons. Therefore women are not a sub-group to them, and should no longer be characterised this way. If book stores stocked their shelves the way that many companies choose to stock their culture, they would go broke. Women can see their own lives reflected in the creation and composition of books, movies, music, dance and circus, and the visual arts. Are Australian theatre companies really serving their audiences?
Theatre is for audiences, and women are the majority of single ticket buyers in many countries. Please note that the word ‘audience’ is generic and has no genetic code. So where are the women? Elizabeth Schafer has theorised that women directors have been critically marginalised. Many directors, including myself, don’t want their gender to be the issue. To quote Nancy Meckler of Shared Experience “I just want to be chosen because I am good.” But it is the notion of being chosen that is the problem. It is impossible to have a career path as a successful director in Australia. Like many directors I have followed the good energy of alternative directing opportunities, and currently turned away from the mainstream companies because I can’t get ‘chosen’, despite working for and succeeding at MTC, Playbox, QTC and The State Theatre Company of SA. This is also despite many letters, pitches and visits to such companies in recent times. I have rejection letters ranging from charming to churlish. At this year’s Australian Theatre Forum, it was implied and acknowledged that there may be an issue with the leadership patterns of some of Australia’s companies, and I agree. I have no axe to grind regarding the individual’s right to choose repertoire and select the individuals they prefer to employ. But I believe that publicly funded companies have a duty to get real about succession plans and to consciously reflect Australia’s cultural diversity in leadership models and in artistic planning. Due to the influence of an implied global mono-culture, which is shaped essentially by celebrity marketing, it seems as if the companies believe they now have the freedom and the right to programme largely pre-tested overseas works and share a handful of ‘talented directors’ who bring with them the whiff of America and Europe. I have no patience with this. It looks like the Australian cultural awakening of the late 1950s and early 1960s never happened. The co-pro has killed any notion of cultural complexity. It is time for transparency of theatrical opportunity. The exclusion of women’s input to this degree wouldn’t be tolerated in any other industry.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The widest pool of empowered experience gave the Germans a different panzer for each day of the week with the top of the range models using gearboxes which wqould have shamed the stone-age.

The Krauts can over-engineer crap, and that takes real talent.

"The exclusion of women’s input to this degree wouldn’t be tolerated in any other industry."

Name me one washing machine designed by a gurl, I rest my case.

Lucy Freeman said...

I think when taking a broad look at inequity in employment and professionl development opportunities for women directors, issues such as the development of feminist discourse and feminist performance languages, while a possible outcome, are not the focus. Male directors are not expected, as a bi-product of their gender, to adopt a particular language, aesthetic or approach to representation of gender, or in the creative process they adopt when directing theatre.

It is suggested that without such discussion the debate is somehow limited to a campaign for the careers of a "small group" of women. I do not raise these issues with a naive attempt of making immediate work opportunities for a small group of women. Rather I have been part of the fight initially, to raise awareness because I agree with Alison that it "wouldn't hurt for a start". The campaign is now shifting to changing policy and process, for long term outcomes, that will impact many - now and into the future - regardless of individual practitioners preferred aesthetic, process and gender politics.

This is not a move further marginalise women directors. It is not a fight to overhaul the 'system' in terms how work is conceived (ie collaboratively or in a traditional leadership structure), it is not a fight about visibility (in terms of female voice/narrative/representation. From my perspective, it is a fight to address equal opportunity in the employment of women in positions of creative authority at the top end. It is wonderful to see a slow increase in the programming of plays by women writers, and an increase in great roles for female performers etc. However, statistically, in professional government funded companies, the presence of women in positions of creative authority is WELL under that of men. Yet the theatre community is not starved of women fulfilling these functions. In education, community, independent, semi-prof, co-op and commerical theatre sectors, women are incresingly well represented. Where the stats take a nose dive is at the top.

While the question of 'why' is interesting to rumminate on, it is neither the object of my focus. The Australian Women Directors Alliance (AWDA) has actions in place and have invited open dialogue with a number of arts organisations, womens organisations, legal organisations, theatre companies and funding bodies. As these discussions unfold, it is my hope that multiple postions and strategies emerge as to HOW we establish schemes/systems/initiatives in the immediate future - so that this issue does not need to be raised - yet again - ten years down the track. At this stage, I find the debate about perceptions of reverse sexism less interesting that the need to confront an existing inequity.

The talk of the need for entry level pathways is being lumped in with the needs of women directors as if they were one and the same. They are not. There is also talk of budgets restrictions impacting opportunity for women, which for me begs the question why do budget restraints only impact the professional development of one gender?

As for the naming of names ... I think Alison is quite right not to provide a 'list' of women directors. I have been quite vocal on the subject. However, individual women directors (AWDA members or not) have a wide range of responses to having their names listed as part of a contentious public debate. Furthermore, naming creates a subjective 'short list' of 'candidates' which could be both preferential and exclusionary. A scan of small to medium company programmes, venue programmes, festival programmes and arts page reviews should provide interested parties with an overwhelming list of Victorian based women directors in their first to fourth decade of practice.

Lucy Freeman (Chair Australian Women Directors Alliance)

Geoffrey said...

What an interesting discussion this is. For my part, I believe that the beginnings of a pathway is in the nucleus of collaboration: those choices we make about who collaborates on us with our work, and at what stage. The second point is: why do we continue to define jobs at the MTC, for example, as pinnacles of our creative journeys? ... some kind of creatively spiritual Holy Grail? I have never believed in that. Has anyone been lately?

As an independent theatre maker, my chosen directors (or those who chose me) were women: more specifically Peta Hanrahan (now the Artistic Director of The Dog Theatre in Footscray) and Kate Whitbread (Producer of the beautiful "The Caterpillar Wish"). On two occasions for Short n Sweet in Sydney I directed two exquisite plays by Julia Fernandez, who as a young, emerging playwright of immense imagination, chose me to collaborate on her first two plays: not in the spirit of gender parity, but in the spirit of true creative collaboration.

Why women? At the time, my plays were the most important things in my life and the honesty and creative intelligence that came from these collaborations was critical to not only my development as a playwright, but also the themes, dreamings, vocabulary and vision of what we wanted to achieve.

It is a mistake to masculinise these aspects of what is different about collaboration with women creative artists. It is a mistake to imagine there must be something going wrong at the supposed "top" of the tree. Perhaps, instead, it is actually that defining work of a truthful creative nature is happening everywhere there is great collaboration and exploration. To think that it has to be "mainstage" to be anymore significant or purposeful, is peculiar.

Lucy Freeman said...

I hope I didn't define jobs at the MTC as the pinnacle of a creative journey. If I did, that was not my intent. As articulated by Geoffrey, working with women, work by women and the input of women in theatre is alive and well. The question of positions for women directors at the MTC is raised not because work created at the MTC is in any way more significant - but simply because the opportunity to work there should be available for those who wish to pursue it, regardless of gender.

Sean Mee said...

The definition is more about validation than money. And it must be said that the number of validation points in Australian Theatre have been diminishing in recent years. 20 years ago, there were quite prestigious career paths to be had in CCD, Theatre for Young People, Theatre in Education, regional theatre and indeed Women's Theatre. An artist could see their journey. But we are experiencing a kind of extinction event, despite years of diversity initiatives... Vitalstatistix is no longer funded nationally, Playworks was dismantled, Yirra Yarkin and Kooemba Jdarra, Parrallelo... I know that is is simplistic to point the bone at just one cause. Many of these organisations have complex circumstances. But in their time, they also represented concepts of participation and access to opportunity. Is this just change and evolution or is there something else happening?

The success of a Australia Council grant is seen as validation... why? Not succeeding is seen as failure... why? The agenda of funding agencies now dominate much of the creative agenda... why? Is the issue of access and equity within the subsidised companies also an indicator of a 'vertical disintegration' of opportunity? (this is a bureaucratic term used to describe the maintenance of an infrastructure whilst reducing the resource base upon which it stands). Are we heading towards an agenda-driven mono-culture? Where can artists seek their validation? Must it be by appealing to the gate-keepers and earning the support of people of influence? What about communities, audiences?