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Equity calls on ACE to take action on imbalanced casting

2 July 2012

National Theatre, London

Equity has called on Arts Council England to introduce comprehensive and transparent monitoring of casting in subsidised theatre so that the imbalance of roles for women and men can be addressed.

Last year members of Equity’s Women’s Committee undertook research on published cast lists for a selection of subsidised theatres in England. Their findings were shocking, but not unexpected. Of the 36 theatres surveyed only one, the Manchester Royal Exchange, appeared to have employed more actresses than actors in the 2009/10 season. A further five, the Royal Court, Soho, Bristol Old Vic, Keswick Theatre by the Lake and Northampton Theatre Royal, had cast slightly more men than women. In the remaining 30 theatres the roles for men significantly outweighed those for women. You can access the full research here.

Because the research was from published sources only, Equity could not be certain that it was 100 per cent accurate, so the union wrote to all 36 theatres asking them to check the figures and to discuss with Equity the lack of roles for women.

To Equity’s surprise just eight of the 36 theatres responded – Almeida, Colchester Mercury, Donmar, Dukes Lancaster, Lyric Hammersmith, Manchester Library, Royal Court and the National Theatre (pictured). The National gave the most detailed response giving casting figures for its three previous seasons – 93 female, 185 male (2008-09 season), 76 female and 152 male (2009-10) and 127 female and 200 male (2010-11).

Equity then raised its concerns with Arts Council England. Along with all other public bodies, ACE has an equality duty under the law which means it must have due regard to eliminating unlawful discrimination and advancing equality of opportunity. The 2010 Equality Act also requires public bodies to publish information demonstrating that they are complying with the law.

Equity’s view is that ACE cannot fulfil these equality duties unless it requires the theatres it funds to compile statistics on the casting of men and women. Equity has met with ACE to put forward this views and a further meeting is expected soon.

Equity’s campaign has attracted a lot of press comment and support and was given new impetus when one of Equity's London Branches wrote to the Hamstead and Highgate Express, the Camden new Journal and The Stage pointing out that in the current season at the Hampstead Theatre there was a big imbalance between roles for men and for women.

Equity Vice President Jean Rogers and Council member Maggie Cronin were interviewed on Radio Ulster's Arts Extra. Jean said that in subsidised repertiory theatre the balance was at best two actors for every one actress. "Unfortunately, looking back over 40 years, it has not got better and I think it has got worse in the last ten years." Maggie Cronin added: "Janet Suzman has written about her frstration and she is a well established actress." Their interview starts at 9 minutes 15 seconds at this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01kf29p/Arts_Extra_02_07_2012/.

Respected actress Janet Suzman has also joined the public debate. She told the Guardian this week end that it is really frustrating because "there aren't bloody well enough parts for women". While men of her age have "great heroic cleaving parts still to play", and, at 73, she is "ready to play Lear", the big classical parts for women of her age simply do not exist.

Equity Vice-President Jean Rogers has lead the campaign for more balanced casting: “Female Equity members have for too long seen their careers fade away unlike their male counterparts and the recent FIA research on performer work opportunities across Europe clearly highlighted that men saw their age and gender as an advantage whilst actresses found the opposite.” Jean Rogers and Equity Council member Maggie Cronin were interviewed on Radio Ulster's Arts Extra. Jean said that in subsidised repertiory theatre the balance was at best two actors for every one actress. "Unfortunately, looking back over 40 years, it has not got better and I think it has got worse in the last ten years." Maggie Cronin added: "Janet Suzman has written about her frstration and she is a well established actress." Their interview starts at 9 minutes 15 seconds at this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01kf29p/Arts_Extra_02_07_2012/.

Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, has recently been appointed chief of the Royal Court in London. For her, according to the Guardian, the problem of women's representation on stage can be solved only through a new type of theatre and new writing. "Tired old programming of old British plays is becoming more and more redundant. It is through new plays that we can represent the world we actually live in."

She points to a new generation of women playwrights, including Lucy Prebble who wrote Enron, Chloë Moss, author of The Gatekeeper, and the Bafta-award winning Abi Morgan – and a concomitantly shifting landscape for female actors that will, she hopes, increase as more women come to run theatres and work as directors.

 

HOW THE MEDIA REPORTED THIS

ACTORS' UNION RALLIES THEATRES TO CREATE MORE PARTS FOR WOMEN
GUARDIAN
Janet Suzman among high-profile thespians highlighting lack of opportunity that reflects wider imbalance in society
http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/jun/29/actors-union-rallies-theatres-parts-women
 
SUBSIDISED THEATRES HAVE TOO FEW FEMALE ROLES, EQUITY SAYS
GUARDIAN
Actors' union finds male roles outnumber female roles by average of two to one in publicly funded companies
http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/jun/27/subsidised-theatres-female-roles-equity
 
UNION CONDEMNS LACK OF ACTRESSES IN HAMPSTEAD THEATRE SEASON
THE STAGE
Hampstead Theatre has been accused of having “little regard for female performers’ right to work” by Equity because its current season features predominantly male casts.
http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/newsstory.php/36616/union-condemns-lack-of-actresses-in-hampstead  
 
NO EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES ON STAGE FOR OUR FEMALE ACTORS
CAMDEN NEW JOURNAL
 IT has come to our attention that the programming throughout the current season on the main stage at Hampstead Theatre shows little regard for female performers’ right to work or for actual women being represented.
http://www.camdennewjournal.com/letters/2012/jun/no-equal-opportunities-stage-our-female-actors

THEATRE DIRECTOR EDWARD HALL IS TOLD: LET WOMEN PLAY MEN’S ROLES
DAILY TELEGRAPH
Actresses should be cast in male roles on stage, says the union Equity as it complains about the lack of roles for women in theatre.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-news/9366023/Theatre-director-Edward-Hall-is-told-Let-women-play-mens-roles.html

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