Originally written for ArtsProfessional
I’ve recently been swamped with work for a new company I’m working with as producer. The reasons for the company existing and the sense of excitement and community within the company are invigorating, but in many respects I’d rather the company didn’t need to exist; the fact that it does suggests there are serious issues of inequality within the theatre industry which have yet to be properly addressed.
Agent 160 Theatre Company came to be due to the lack of opportunities for female playwrights to see their work produced; Sphinx Theatre’s ‘Vamps, Vixens and Feminists’ conference in 2009 revealed that just 17% plays professionally produced in British theatre were by female writers. Quite why the number is so low is open to interpretation and could be affected by a number of different factors; however, there has clearly been a real lack of addressing this and trying to encourage change in perceptions. Writers’ work should be judged and produced on its own merits, and in keeping with artistic policies of companies and venues; if anyone is guilty of adding additional, unwritten caveats regarding gender then this is a damning indictment of their supposed professionalism.
I personally find it absurd that gender should play any part in an artist’s professional development. Within my work I have met and worked with some exceptionally talented and hard-working female artists across various disciplines, but at no point have I felt their gender has had any effect on how myself or my peers treat them or their work; should this be happening at any level then it disappoints me greatly, and as a male it worries me that my own professionalism may be called into question due to the actions of others purely on a gender basis. There is undoubtedly a sense that the patriarchal system is alive and well in the upper reaches, and that may affect opportunities as people climb the ladder – but sincerely hope time will see the make-up of those in the upper-echelons will change to be more representative of the industry and society as a whole.
For now, though, companies such as Agent 160 will do what we can to help promote the work of those who deserve to be seen. As we prepare to launch, there is definitely a sense that people recognise what we are doing is sadly necessary.