Dear Oliver Dowden,
Over the last 2 months, we have been looking at the question of how to rebuild the arts post-coronavirus, from the perspective of women’s equality. Our concern is that gender inequality will increase in straitened, risk-averse conditions.
Our research shows that one reason less work by women is programmed is that women are sometimes viewed (incorrectly) as more of a box-office risk. This aligns with evidence in Sphinx Theatre’s year-long research project on Women in Theatre, conducted with Jennifer Tuckett at the University of Cambridge last year, including quotes from NPO Artistic Directors:
“There isn’t enough money to make exciting commissions happen and there is pressure on the bottom line to deliver sure fire winners, which often means extant texts, which often means male written.”
“I would say that managing risk is a challenge for every theatre. There are things that I know in the wider sphere wouldn’t be a risk, but here they would be. And that often is to do with contemporary new work that’s not necessarily of a known quality”.
“The challenge is we need a play that’s recognizable, that we can get an audience in with…. and the repertoire’s dominated by men. So it’s how you change that.”
We will be sending you the Report of our recent research, and from the major Women in Theatre Forum (partners including The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, Equity, ERA 50:50, University Women in the Arts, Sphinx Theatre, Black Womxn in Theatre, Stage Directors UK).
We are writing to flag up this issue now, however, as we notice that your taskforce has only 3 women out of the 9 task force members (33%). Our research from Australia has shown that a gender-equal team is more likely to consider all genders’ needs.
We also notice that 0% of the leadership is female, as both yourself, as Chair of the taskforce, and the newly appointed Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal are male.
For all these reasons, we ask that you use a ‘gender lens’ to make and review all your decisions.
We will be sending you our Report within the next few weeks. We ask you and your taskforce to reflect, and act, on its findings, as you consider how best to rebuild the arts post-coronavirus.
We hope you will let us know what measures will be put in place to ensure gender equality.
Maureen Beattie OBE, President of Equity
Sue Parrish, Artistic Director, Sphinx Theatre
Polly Kemp, Co-founder, ERA 50: 50
Brigid Larmour, Artistic Director, Watford Palace Theatre
Jennifer Tuckett, Director, University Women in the Arts
Dr Julia Pascal, writer, director, academic and the first female director at the National Theatre at the South Bank
Chloe Todd Fordham, playwright, dramaturg and the former Literary Manager at Graeae Theatre Company
On behalf of The December Group