Following her earlier blog on the seriousness of gender inequality in theatre, guest Mate Victoria J Sadler is back to celebrate some good news care of Tonic Theatre and publishers Nick Hern Books.
Like so many other walks of life, there is a profound gender imbalance in theatre, whether that’s in the commissioning of female playwrights, female directors, or the amount of parts available to women, which in turn results in gender imbalance in casting too.
But Tonic Theatre has stepped forward with a fascinating, and hopefully incredibly effective, way of addressing some of these issues right at the start. Tonic Theatre was created in 2011 with an aim to support theatre in achieving greater gender equality in its workforces and repertoires and now they have created Platform, a new initiative that seeks to tackle the same issue from the grassroots level of youth drama. Platform’s specific objective is to increase opportunities for girls and young women on the stage, and this came about as a response to Tonic’s own nationwide research into opportunities for girls in youth drama.
This research found that though the majority of those interested in drama at a young age were girls, the majority of roles in the scripts available to them were mostly male. Sound familiar? Ladies, how many times were you playing male characters during play readings at school? Exactly.
And it’s not just the lack of numbers of female parts either. As Lucy Kerbel, director of Tonic Theatre herself observed, quality and variety is also an issue:
“Speaking to young women across the country who take part in drama, the overwhelming consensus was that they found that existing writing for female characters was frustratingly narrow and often displayed outdated stereotypes of femininity. Girls overwhelmingly felt they had little opportunity to drive the action on stage, rather than being at the periphery. Some felt the only way to access complex, well-written, and demanding roles was by playing male characters.”
That Tonic’s own research evidenced a clear lack of provision for girls and young women taking part in drama at school, college, and youth theatre level is worrying enough. But the research suggested that this then sows the seeds for persistent gender imbalances in the theatre profession because young people enter the industry already anticipating that female characters will have less to say and less to do on stage.
So Tonic said, enough!
And in the first stage of their new initiative, they commissioned three playwrights – Jemma Kennedy, Joel Horwood and Silva Semerciyan – to write high-quality, big-cast plays for performance by school, college and youth theatre groups, which have all-female or mainly female casts.
Playwright Jemma Kennedy loved the challenge the project brought: “Drama is powerful. It’s a place you go to to interrogate experience but these girls too often found that the plays they read didn’t relate to who they are.”