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On April 27, 2015 there will be a symposium held on underrepresentation and gender inequities in the theatre industry (see information on poster below). If you happen to be in Toronto for this day-long event I encourage you to attend. Information on best practices and actions to promote change will be gathered and shared in various ways including at the Professional Association of Canadian Theatre (PACT) Conference and AGM in May.
I find it disheartening that we, theatre practitioners and artistic leadership, seem to be complacent about gender equity. It has been a part of the conversation in the Canadian theatre ecology for many years – I can think of at least three reports over the last two decades that delivered the message that virtually nothing has changed in regards to gender equity in Canadian theatre. Many of our theatres were founded on the notion of making change or shedding light on society and who we are. But how can we reflect who we are and comment accurately on society if we are comprised of and represent work that is mostly written and programmed by one gender. To understate it, half of us are missing from our stages.
Kelly Thornton, Artistic Director at Nightwood Theatre, recently wrote a post about this for International Women’s Day. The theme for International Women’s Day this year is MAKE IT HAPPEN! In her post, Kelly presented a challenge that said:
I challenge Artistic Directors to program more plays written by women, and directed by women, to reach parity within the next five years. I put it to artists to keep pushing and keep the conversation alive. And I put it to you – yes you! - to take change into your own hands. To see more theatre made by women. And to write letters to theatre companies asking for change. It’s time to make it happen.
I accept that challenge.
On various occasions when the dialogue on gender equity has come up, yet again, someone eventually brings up the notion of quotas or other affirmative action strategies and the response is often “My decisions must be made on the basis of artistic excellence”. When you combine that statement with the current landscape it suggests that women are not creating excellent work. My opinion is that simply isn’t true. I believe that we all need to expand our horizons. Look for the work. Challenge what we know.
Reach outside our regular comfort zones. I remember someone saying to me in the ‘80s “have you seen the new VW Beetle” and then all of a sudden that seemed to be the only car I ever saw any more. Okay, bad example, but you get my point. Start looking. The talent is out there. They are prolific. They are available for work. We need them to be seen and we need them to be heard.
As to Kelly’s challenge, I expand it to not only include Artistic Directors but also other theatre management, boards, artists, audiences, funders, universities and on and on... We need to create a culture of gender equity. The fact that this doesn’t exist on our stages matters big time. I urge us to stop talking about this and instead take some action because this current reality of one gender being grossly underrepresented is not acceptable. Not in theatre. Not anywhere.