Australian show business has a problem: Where are all the women at the top?
Email Australian show business has a problem: Where are all the women at the top?
Updated July 15, 2018 08:13:33Photo: There are 28 major performing arts companies in Australia, but only two have women in charge of their artistic vision. (ABC RN: Fiona Pepper) Related Story: Just one woman recognised among 12 Helpmann best director nods Related Story: Sexual harassment happens on the Australian stage too Map: Australia
Wh en the stars of Australian showbiz assemble for the Helpmann Awards tomorrow, they will honour some of Australia's finest singers, actors and actresses, along with all the men who put them on stage.
Only one woman, Melbourne Theatre Company associate director Sarah Goodes, has earned a nomination among the 12 Helpmann slots for best director, across theatre, musicals and opera.
The design categories for scenic, lighting and sound design are yet again exclusively male, the exception being the West End-originated touring production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, where triple Olivier-Award-winning English woman Bunny Christie is nominated for set design.
Australian performing arts have a woman problem, still. Costume designers are the exception that proves the rule.
Almost a decade after an outcry about the lack of opportunities for women was triggered by Belvoir Theatre Company artistic director Neil Armfield, Australian theatre' ;s diversity problem appears frozen in the spotlight.Photo: The Melbourne Theatre Company's associate airector Sarah Goodes is the sole woman nominated in the Helpmann Awards for Best Director. (Melbourne Theatre Company)
In his final, nine-production, 2010 season, Armfield programmed only one play directed by a woman, and no commissions by women writers with the knock-on effect that female stories and perspectives were lacking. There was also fewer good roles for actresses than there might have been.
Other major companies were also found to be wanting and a report commissioned as a result of this by the Australia Council and published in 2012, was damning.
"Contrary to what might be expected, given that anti-discrimination and affirmative action policies have been in place for many years, not only has there not been continuous progress towards gender parity (within theatre companies), but there is evidence things have actually gone backwards over the past decade," it read.
The report revealed Australia's major theatre, opera and dance companies were the worst offenders.Infographic: Muriel's Wedding the Musical has received 11 Helpmann Awards nominations including Best Original Score and Best New Australian Work. (Sydney Theatre Company)
Men at the top
There are in total 28 so-called major performing arts companies sharing $110 million i n federal funding â" that is the largest share of annual money for the performing arts.
All but two of these companies have men in charge of the artistic vision.
All Australia's capital city arts festivals, with the exception of Perth, in Adelaide a man and woman share the role, are also directed by men.
The role of artistic director in the performing arts was described by the report as feudal in nature, "like the monarch at the centre of their court".
The monarch often has exclusive say in who is appointed and what role they will perform; these decisions are based on unquantifiable notions of taste and artistic sensibility.
"The problem comes and goes because all the power is vested in the role of the artistic director and equity relies on the benevolence of the autocrat," the report reads.
Artistic directors and former artistic directors overwhelmingly dominate the Helpmann nominations slots.
Among them this year are Sydney Theatre company artistic director Kip Williams, former MTC artistic director Simon Phillips and Malthouse Theatre artistic director Matthew Lutton.Photo: "I've built a career out of taking what's offered": Lee Lewis. (Supplied: Brett Boardman )
Women's ideas can't find space
Lee Lewis is artistic director of Sydney's Griffin Theatre Company, which has a big voice in Australian theatre but does not receive major funding on the level of Queensland Theatre or Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre.
Lewis is a former Helpmann winner for the gripping rural family drama, The Bleeding Tree, and the only woman Armfield anointed with a directing job in that watershed year at Belvoir.
Lewis says the artistic directors dominate at the Helpmanns because they can, and do, over-allocate resources to the shows they direct themselves.
They put their productions in the big theatres, with the best actors and crew and spend lavishly on their own shows, leaving less money to spend on others.
Also, each theatre company nominates which plays are considered for Helpmanns, so it follows they will favour those they have lavished all their resource on.
Industry figures from the past few years reveal women writers and directors have been given more opportunities to work on mainstages, but Lewis says their careers are not being genuinely fostered.
"I've never pitched a show that has been accepted by a major company. I've built a career out of taking what's offered," she says.
Lewis says it has been extremely difficult for her to maintain faith in her ability on account of never having her ideas endorsed as worthy, or validated by way of a commission from an artistic director of a major company.
She thought her ideas were getting short shrift but when she tested the theory earlier this year on a group of five other mainstage female directors, they all had the same experience.
"It was this terrible moment where we all just looked at each other," she says.Photo: If all the leaders are men, no matter how good they are, their existence at the top means the culture is dominated by similar voices, says Kate Cherry. (ABC RN: Fiona Pepper)
Do gender targets help?
The film industry also has a poor track record of nurturing women's projec ts, but recently attempted to tackle the problem by tying funding to gender targets.
The Women in Theatre report recommended gender parity targets for the performing arts, but National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) chief executive Kate Cherry, who is the former artistic director of Black Swan Theatre Company, says for targets to work they need to be tied to money too.
"You can put in 50 per cent women but if they're working "downstairs" it's not equitable," she says.
"I'd like to see the Australia Council investigating how each million dollars is allocated."
Australia's many successful female film and television producers like Sue Maslin, Jan Chapman and Jo Porter are often cited as evidence of few barriers to entry for women in creative industries.
In live performance too, women largely oversee the executive functions of the major companies but Lewis, for one, is infuriated by the argument that women facilitating the artistic visions of men is equality.
She is currently directing a play with scenes between a mother and her daughter's psychiatrist where there is no father involved in the decision-making, so the story is the exclusive responsibility of those women. It is a narrative Lewis realised she has never directed before.
"Audiences (the majority of whom are women) are missing out on seeing different versions of what the world could be," she says.
'Women in theatre are organising'
Belvoir artistic director Eamon Flack was a beneficiary of Armfield's tutelage.
He joined the company as literary director and directed his first play in that 2010 season.
He confirms he has never accepted a pitch for a play from a director because, he says, he tends to begin with the project aligned to a writer or actor and then finds a director.
"I'm definitely very pleased with the prom inence of work led by women," he says, citing Belvoir's recent hit productions Barbara and the Camp Dogs and The Drover's Wife.
"I am also pleased with the numbers [of females working at Belvoir], but not for a second do I believe there are not problems under the numbers.
"The focus on directors and artistic directors is a natural and a necessary one, but since [Donald Trump] got elected to the White House, something has shifted.
"Women in theatre in Sydney are organising and empowering themselves in different ways.
"There's an opportunity at the moment to change the stories and the way we make them. Look at Hannah Gadsby, Kate Mulvany, Sophie Ross, Anne-Louise Sarks, Leticia Caceres, Ursula Yovich, Alana Valentine, Lee Lewis â" these women are demanding a real shift and they're not just talking about it, they're doing it.
"They will change the situation in a deeper way than just a focus on the num bers."Photo: Sydney Theatre Company's Kip Williams says there are more opportunities for women in his second season as artistic director. (Supplied: Sydney Theatre Company)
A long history
At STC Kip Williams, in his first season as artistic director, is preparing to direct an epic two-part production of Ruth Park's novel The Harp in the South, adapted by Kate Mulvany.
He points to director Imara Savage's grand scale adaptation (albeit uncredited) of George Bernard Shaw's St Joan as a case where he gave a woman the chance to shine.
His second season will reveal further opportunities for women writers and directors which will "start to redress the long history of being weighted against them," he says.
Working with the theatre makers of tomorrow at NIDA, Cherry is optimistic.
"When you employ a leader in an arts company, it is creating a little ripple. If all those leaders are men, no matter how good they are, their very existence at the top of the chair means the culture is dominated by similar voices," she says.
With men dominating the conversation in Australian theatre, they also dominate what is heard.
This could go some way to explaining why the exposure of sexual predators in the performing arts in Australia has stalled before it ever got started.
The Helpmann Awards will be broadcast on ABC on Monday, July 16, at 9.35pm.
Topics: theatre, arts-and-entertainment, australia
First posted July 15, 2018 05:04:03Source: Google Australia | Netizen 24 Australia