So, look, this is an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while, and a subject that has come up in the odd conversation with those (few) friends I have in the industry – we need a networking group for women working in British theatre. And we need it for a whole host of reasons.
As I’ve said before, theatre is a sexist, racist, elitist, ageist and ableist industry. It may not mean to be, but it is, and because of this, women creatives are being excluded from opportunities and struggling to be platformed.
And, btw, this is a fact that is not really open to debate. We all read my article last September on the state of play for female playwrights in London theatres, and hasn’t miraculously been addressed in the past six months. By way of example, here is a tweet I sent yesterday after a cursory look through what is showing in London this month:
So, why Women in Theatre, and how can we make it work?
1 It Has Been Done with Great Success Elsewhere
To address issues with the old boys’ networks across society and the workplace, other industries have developed women-only groups to enable women to build up their own networks to both support other women, and further opportunities and contacts for themselves.
A great comparison for theatre would be WFTV (Women in Film and TV), which has grown from a networking group into an organisation that hosts events, award shows, and is now able to offer discounts to members.
A similar organisation would be of a huge benefit in British theatre which is still struggling to actively support and encourage women creatives from all backgrounds. Women working together to help each other is a great step that we can take together to bring about this change.
2 I Cannot Do It Alone
I have been an agitator and now I must be an agent of change. I want to do as much as I am practically able to bring about change in British theatre. I loathe the dominance of White men in this industry and I am frustrated by the snail’s pace of change. I obviously though cannot and must not do it alone.
I have flustered about trying to pull Women in Theatre together all by myself behind closed doors, to try and bring it to you as a somewhat finished product that women would be enthusiastic to participate in. In summary, I have been trying to shoulder the administrative burden alone to bring such an opportunity into existence. I realise now this is the wrong approach.
Not only am I sabotaging the project by self-created delays by trying to fit this in around other responsibilities, but such an individual approach, of course, is a barrier to inclusivity and broader representation. And, more than this, I want this organisation to be able to flourish without me, I don’t want to be a critical linchpin for it, though I am of course happy to push this as much as I can.
There are so many aspects to consider, and work to be done to bring this into action, that I am keen to develop a working group, a forum, a caucus – call it what you will – to meet regularly and drive this organisation into existence – and on to success!
3 Please Join In!
Women in Theatre will be intersectional and representative, or it will rightfully die a death.
I feel this must all seem like such an ego thing for me but please believe me when I say it isn’t. In many ways, I feel this has all been put upon me. My staunch calling out of the lack of opportunities and platforming of women playwrights has given me a profile I neither wanted nor expected. However, now that I’m here we need to turn this talk into actions as, frankly, if women don’t push for this, it’s not going to happen.
For this to succeed, it needs the enthusiastic support of women from across theatre in all capacities, whether that be as an actor or agent, or as a writer or director. I want Women in Theatre to bring more opportunities, more openings and more diversity and inclusion. For this to happen, the more women that become involved, the more likely we will succeed.
But what does joining in mean? Well, it can mean either as a Participant, an Organiser, or perhaps you work for an outlet that could help Women in Theatre with publicity, sponsorship or funding. Whatever your role, if you want to get involved, please do get in touch.
My initial thoughts are that Women in Theatre will be a membership organisation (not necessarily fee-based) to support women in theatre by hosting a range of talks and events, (including drinks!!), as well as working with other organisations, such as writers’ groups and regional groups to create a broad network of opportunities and contacts for women.
To join in, maybe you would like to participate, maybe you would like to help organise, maybe you already run a similar group that could want to affiliate? All these things would be a great contribution to the start of this journey.
4 It’s Not a Clique Thing
It’s interesting the assumptions we make about other people on Twitter and one came when I mooted this last week. Women were already raising their hands to help – thank you all! – but it was interesting that many didn’t, and some even thought it was for only for people I already knew.
First, I have no friends! No, seriously, I don’t. Well, not many in theatre anyway – it’s either those bridges I’m burning or the fact that as a critic, I am somewhat of an outsider! And rightfully so, I suppose. So please do not think this is just a personal clique thing. Categorically not. I don’t have the contacts to form such a clique!
And, of course if this was a cliquey thing this would rightfully die an early death. For this to succeed, like with any feminist enterprise, it must be inclusive or it is nothing. So, please, if you think this isn’t for you, chances are I’m desperate for you to join!
And, as always, I’m free for a coffee if you want to chat.
5 There Will Be Challenges
There are very obvious initial challenges even before we really get started… How can we ensure full regional representation, how can we include women from more challenged financial backgrounds who may not be able to afford to attend meetings or events, what can we do to prevent this forum becoming elitist, how do we maintain our own inclusion principles, where will the money come from…
All these are critical questions and ones I have wrestled with privately as I’ve tried to consider how best to set up Women in Theatre. I must accept though that I do not have all the answers to these – sure, I have ideas – but these challenges should not hold us back from making a start and I realise now that bringing heads and ideas together will help us overcome these challenges.
6 We Will Make Mistakes
We are not going to get this right first time. Some ideas may prove to be non-starters, I’ve a feeling this forum could be very white at first and there will be many that are sceptical, but a critical part in success is failing. We will make mistakes, and that is fine. As women, we are overly-penalised for failure or slip-ups. In a supportive environment, we will overcome those mistakes and go on to success.
We will try, make mistakes, learn those lessons and try again. And with this approach, we will succeed.
7 But We Will Have Fun
I did mention we will have drinks, right? And we will have talks from some amazing leading lights in the industry. And there will be groups and events where we can make new friends, and meetings and forums where we can make new contacts.
And we will be able to hear about new shows and the work of women creatives so, if nothing else, that alone will make this worthwhile.
8 So, If Not Now, When?
So, look, let’s get this thing started, yes?
This could well turn into something very special. I want women creatives to have more opportunities in theatre, and there are a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives getting started behind the scenes that I hope you will hear more about as they endeavour to bring about meaningful institutional change.
But there are huge benefits to ‘soft power’ too, and the existence of a regular networking framework and events, with supporting talks, workshops and events, would be of a huge benefit to women creatives who are looking for an ‘in’, and for women in positions of influence to meet new faces and names coming through or who are blocked from further opportunities by institutional and structural walls and hurdles.
Oh, and did I say it would be fun too?
So, here’s what we’ll do…
I’m going to set up a working group to manage the creation and first steps of Women in Theatre. Hopefully this will then develop into a caucus or forum of some kind to manage the organisation once it has been established.
We will then look to kick off with initial events and talks – DRINKS!!! – as well as sourcing suitable venues and perhaps on to an annual awards show! (I know Tonic has kicked off an annual awards show that celebrates women who’ve changed the face of the industry but I’m thinking more like the Olivier’s/WOS/Evening Standards categories but for women only – and to give visibility to women creatives without such high profiles and acknowledging their successes etc.)
So, to enable all this good stuff, I’ve set up a mailing list for all those who would like to participate, to stay informed of all our planned talks and events so please sign up: http://eepurl.com/dpmEzz
And for those who would like to get involved in the Steering Forum and help with organisation, get in touch with me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
So, there we are. Fingers crossed this excites you and let’s work to make this forum sustainable, meaningful and inclusive.