#WakingtheFeminists

11th November 2015 by Maura McHugh

On Wednesday, 28 October the Abbey Theatre launched its programme, termed Waking the Nation, to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

In The Irish Times on Monday, 2 November journalist Una Mullally pointed out that 9 out of the 10 plays in the 2016 programme are written by men, with a lone contribution by a woman playwright.

She said:

“Gender equality in Ireland’s artistic institutions is not about tokenism, it is about redressing a historical imbalance, it is about representing the population, it is about showcasing multiple perspectives not just a male ones, it is about reflecting the whole audience and not just a part of it. If art is about how we see ourselves, then why are we only getting one half of the picture? The Abbey Theatre receives taxpayers’ money, which does not discriminate on the basis of gender, yet most of the work it shows is by men. Why? If there is such a dearth of female-made theatre, what is it doing to address this? Are there female mentorship schemes? Female commissioning schemes?”

On Wednesday, 4 November Dr Brenda Donohue wrote a letter to the Editor of The Irish Times detailing highlights of the research she has conducted into the number of women playwrights whose work has been produced for the Abbey.

“Some of my latest research, which is due to be published in 2016, has focused on the number of plays written by women and presented on the Abbey stages from 1995 to 2014. It found that of 320 plays staged in this period, just 36 plays were written by a woman, 24 of which were new plays, while 12 were revivals.

My analysis shows that women playwrights are significantly under-represented on the Abbey and Peacock stages in terms of full theatrical productions. In the selected period, the annual percentage of plays written by women produced on either the Abbey or Peacock stages varied from a low of zero per cent of the plays produced in 2008, to a high of 26.6 per cent in 2003.

On average, over the period studied, just 11 per cent of the plays staged by the National Theatre were written by a woman.

One new play written by a woman is produced, on average, at the Abbey every year. In addition, the revival of plays by women is rare, with on average less than one revived work written by a woman staged per year in the selected period, accounting for a meagre 7 per cent of plays revived. In many years no revived works by women were produced. The issue of a low number of revivals is particularly pertinent to the current discussion.”

This prompted a conversation initially on Twitter called #WakingtheFeminists (also at @WTFeminists and wakingthefeminists.wordpress.com), which has turned into a grassroots campaign by Irish artists to challenge the under-representation of the work of women at the Abbey Theatre, and in Irish theatre generally.

There is now an online petition asking for equality for women artists, which anyone can sign to show their support for the campaign.

On 9 November the Board and the Director of the Abbey Theatre released a statement and acknowledged that the 2016 programme did not represent gender equality.

The Board commits to work with the Director and the new incoming Directors to develop a comprehensive policy and detailed plan to help address gender equality with the cooperation and input of the wider Irish theatre community.

There is going to be a #WakingTheFeminists public meeting at the Abbey Theatre tomorrow – Thursday, 12 November – but tickets to the event sold out within ten minutes of being released. There will be a standby list at the theatre from noon tomorrow, although demand is expected to be exceptional.

At 12.15pm sharp there will be a photo opportunity outside the Abbey Theatre for women working in all areas of theatre in Ireland. They welcome writers, directors, actors, stage managers, set designers, producers, costume designers, managers, lighting designers, administrators, sound designers, technical, and production managers to attend. If you’re unable to get a ticket for the meeting, you’re very welcome to attend the photo op.

For those who come to the photo op but can’t get into the meeting the Project Arts Centre welcomes them to continue the conversation in its bar and cafe.

If you cannot attend either event, you should be able to follow the discussion online – with information on how to do so on the website.

Dr Susan Liddy also contributed to the conversation in relation to the representation of women in the film industry by way of a letter to The Irish Times, which you can read here.

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