Incorporating the Variety Artistes' Federation
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20 February 2012



It’s been a busy few months for the Committee. We now have a new Chair (Lynda Rooke) and a new Vice-Chair (Flip Webster). 


We have continued to update our audit on gender casting in Television and also our audit on the number of female Artistic Directors in subsidised theatres throughout England, Wales and Belfast. The ratio continues to be 2:1 in favour of male actors. In London there will shortly be only 2 women in charge of 14 main producing theatres (as opposed to 1 at present). In the regions only 9 theatres have a female A.D. out of 37 producing companies, including the RSC.


Vice President Jean Rogers has responded to a request by ACE’s Diversity Officer, Tony Panayiotou to suggest some questions that ACE could ask their subsidised companies in respect of their gender equality in casting and gender mainstreaming in their choice of repertoire. We informed him that a letter had been sent out by Equity, which was signed by Christine Payne, politely requesting subsidised theatre companies to inform Equity of the gender balance in their season and whether they had a gender equality policy in operation. So far, of the 43 letters sent,  only 9 responses have been received, and four of those were only after a prompting letter sent some 7 months later. Sadly, he felt a similar letter from ACE would also receive the same apathetic response. His suggestion was that we should meet with the new ACE Theatre officer Neil Darlison. This we are hoping to do in the near future.


We have also drawn up a Deputies Gender Questionnaire, which will go out after the panto season in all new Deputies packs, requesting deputies to fill in a gender profile of all casts they are involved with.


An Open Meeting at the Watershed in Bristol was held on the 23rd November and although the turn out was less than expected the event was very well received by those who did attend. We had a very good panel of 6 industry professionals from BBC Radio, TV, Theatre, the Acting CEO of South West Screen and ACE SW.  Encouragingly, three of our committee members,  Joan Blackham, Vice Chair Flip Webster and Jean Rogers travelled to Bristol to attend and speak at the meeting. The feedback has included many requests for further meetings. We were allowed to download the 8-minute trailer of Miss Representation from You Tube by Oprah Winfrey and show it at this event and this has in turn influenced one of our motions for the WTUC next March.  


Jean Rogers has been working with the National Centre for Social Research; she has been contributing to the investigation into how different age groups are represented in the media. Some of the responses from viewers to the online petition were put forward as evidence of this underrepresentation of older women in film and television.


We understand that the LGB & T Committee have proposed that Tony Panayiotou is invited as guest speaker at the next ARC and we as a committee have sent in a motion of support to Council for this suggestion. We also would like to propose a fringe event at the next ARC with a guest speaker who would address some of the issues that our committee are challenging.


We are proposing two motions to the WTUC next March. One is regarding the lack of women on company boards and the economic impact this has on profitability. The second is in relation to role models for women in all walks of life and the need for the TUC to take up a nationwide campaign to counter the lack of positive role models for women of all ages. We also want to propose a fringe event with our sister unions in the FEU at the WTUC to promote this view and possibly a screening of the full documentary followed by a discussion on how we can affect this misrepresentation in the UK.


We are also looking into proposing blue plaques for those women in theatre, TV and film, who history has conveniently chosen to forget, in particular Dame May Whitty, Equity’s founder.


Finally, at our last meeting on the 5th December Jean Rogers was able to persuade Ben Stephenson Head of Commissioning at the BBC and Kate Harwood Head of Series and Serials to attend our meeting to discuss the lack of female roles on BBC TV. It was a lively meeting and Ben did say that he would go back and take into account the level of gender casting throughout a cast (rather than just leads) and this could be done at producer levels. The way does remain open for Jean to make contact in the future.

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