A new report, Women in Theatre, released today by the Australia Council for the Arts, offers the first detailed analysis of the representation of women in creative roles in the Australian theatre scene from the early 80s to today.
A key finding is that whilst the concerted policy and strategy interventions of the 80s and 90s saw improvements in the representation and support of women key creative roles throughout this period; over the past decade, there’s evidence that the situation has deteriorated.
The report, a key recommendation from the 2010 Women Director’s Forum, was commissioned through a partnership of the Australia Council’s Theatre and Major Performing Arts Boards. It draws upon data and commentary from reports on the issue of women in creative leadership compiled over the past 30 years, together with interviews with over 40 key industry figures.
Importantly, the report proposes a way forward through three strategies: more rigorous tracking of the state of the sector and any advances for women; greater board and senior management accountability for their track record; and vigilance, through all individuals taking responsibility for their decision-making.
The Australia Council has launched an online survey to gather responses to the report, the issues it raises and the three proposed strategies. Members of the theatre sector are encouraged to read the report and contribute their thoughts. Survey results, along with an upcoming focus group discussion, will enable the Australia Council and the sector to collaborate on further development of the strategies.
“The report confirms what we know instinctively - that there’s no ’silver bullet’ solution,” says Stephen Armstrong, Chair of the Australia Council Theatre Board. “People commonly talk of gender quotas, but this has been shown to be ineffective.”
“It’s also clear that this isn’t isolated to the theatre sector,” says Stephen. “Many of the obstacles detailed in this report are the same ones faced by women in the private sector such as the burden balancing of career and family responsibilities which often falls to women, the lack of sustained organisational reporting and action, and the perception that this is not a problem.”
While the issue of gender equality in the theatre largely fell off the agenda in the early 2000s, it remerged in 2009, with public debate around the unusually low representation of women in creative roles within major theatre subscription seasons for 2010.
“Since 2009 the Australia Council has provided the sector with forum and roundtable opportunities to analyse state of play, and through the newly developed Creating Pathways reporting tool, we plan to collect meaningful data about how our theatre organisations are progressing with the issue,” says Stephen.
“What we need to ensure now is that this report is not an end in itself, but instead, a point of no return in improving the prospects for women creatives in Australian theatre.”
The report brings the Australia Council’s research in this area up to the present day, and provides a basis for the theatre sector to reach agreement on future strategies to achieve and sustain some parity for women in creative leadership.
The online survey can also be accessed via this address.