Category Archives: Performance Research Group

Women are being excluded from the stage. It’s time for quotas.

by Julia Pascal, Research Fellow, Department of English, King’s College London

It’s a century after some British women were allowed to vote, and a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett has been unveiled in Parliament Square, so why is women’s presence on the English stage still unequal to men’s?

In a recent survey, the Sphinx theatre found that just a fifth of English theatres were led by women, who between them control just 13% of the total Arts Council England (ACE) theatre budget.

The feminist campaigning organisation the Fawcett Society has called for quotas to get more women into key positions, after its Sex and Power Index revealed startling gender disparities in the public arena. The situation in theatre, where I have worked all my life, is a startling gauge of the marginalisation of women.

The Conference of Women Theatre Directors and Administrators began auditing the number of females on stage in the 1980s. That we are nowhere near equality, almost 40 years later, was only too evident at the Olivier awards this year, when the prizes for best director and best new play went to men. When women do not have equal representation in theatre, it is impossible for them to have an equal chance of winning prizes. The Equal Representation for Actresses campaign group is among those pushing for change, but the male ruling elite refuses to share power.

Postwar British theatre declared itself to be the vanguard of a more equal society. From 1956, a new wave known as the ‘angry young men’ celebrated working-class playwrights, directors and actors.

Male rage was hailed as a revitalising force. Women’s rage was not. However, this working-class male movement never gave women equal opportunity. Sixty-two years later, female talent remains un-nurtured.

Michelle Fairley as Cassia (Cassius) in Julius Caesar at the Bridge theatre. ‘Even today, female playwrights and directors are atypical. Shakespearian gender-swapping has been mooted as a partial solution.’ Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Even today, female playwrights and directors are atypical. Shakespearian gender-swapping has been mooted as a partial solution. One example is Michelle Fairley playing Cassia [a gender-swapped Cassius] at London’s Bridge theatre. However, such theatrical novelty only serves to distract from the main issue – the absence of contemporary dramas reflecting the complexity of women’s lives.

Cross-gender casting fails to question the over-representation of dead and living male playwrights. It does not address the fact that half our contemporary creative world is missing.

Why aren’t more women active demonstrators against this injustice? One reason is a justifiable fear of blacklisting. Some of the privileged theatrical knights who have led our flagships, the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, have opposed gender parity. Consequently, women, who must seek male directorial approval to be employed, have dared not speak their name.

There are structural reasons for marginalisation. Drama schools educate female graduates to expect lower employment levels than their male peers. The actors’ union, Equity, the majority of whose members are female, rejects calls for equal representation. Most important of all is the position of Arts Council England (ACE).

The term ‘diversity’ reduces women – the majority of the population – to a minority…

This unelected quango crushes female ambition by boxing women into a category called diversity. This term reduces women – the majority of the population – to a minority. This promulgates the lie that females are diverse and males are mainstream. Orwellian double-talk maintains male dominance.

The exclusion of women from equal employment at all levels flouts both civil and human rights. The theatre is a serious, international political platform. It is a parliament of the arts, a form of soft power and a cultural territory as important as any physical land mass. With this abnegation of female flair, audiences are robbed of the full human story. These audiences are 65% female. There has never been a female artistic director of the National Theatre or Royal Shakespeare Company. Sir Nicholas Hytner, artistic director of the National Theatre for 12 years, until March 2015, never directed a play by a woman during that time.

Women may occasionally appear as actors, directors and playwrights, but the English stage is devoted to worshipping male narratives. Where are the histories of our mothers, sisters and grandmothers?

In December 2017, the recently appointed chair of ACE, Sir Nicholas Serota, announced a 50-50 male-female split on its national council. What we need now is 50-50 employment for female actors, directors, playwrights and creative artists.

We may hate the concept of a quota system but decades of disenfranchisement mean that female artists and audiences have been cheated. When women’s human rights are acknowledged on the English stage, and when theatres are equally shared among expert professionals of both genders, only then can we say that our theatre is truly national and democratic.

This article was originally published on The Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ blog. Read the original article here.

Featured image: composite of the winners and nominees for best director and best new play at the 2018 Olivier Awards.


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Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and not those of the English Department, nor King’s College London.

Performance/ Museums/ Practice

by Acatia Finbow,  Collaborative Doctoral Award Student, University of Exeter and Tate.

‘Performance/Museums/Practice’ is a monthly research seminar which considers the overlapping and intersecting practices around performance and museums, in all their complexity and richness. It is an interdisciplinary group, open to academics, practitioners, and those with a general interest in the topics, and seeks to stimulate discussion and debate around these areas of research.

The first session, held at King’s on December 4th 2017, considered ‘Collaborations and the Expansion of Performance’. The seminar usually involves two key texts and one case study which form the basis for the conversation during the seminar. In this first session, we looked at Simon Martin’s ‘Painting the Stage and Screen: Burra and Performance’, Robert S. Mattison’s essay on ‘Sleep for Yvonne Rainer’, and looked at the work by Robert Rauschenberg, ‘Sleep for Yvonne Rainer’, currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Robert Rauschenberg, Sleep for Yvonne Rainer, 1965, detail.
Robert Rauschenberg, Sleep for Yvonne Rainer, 1965, detail.

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On the virtues of slow scholarship and small numbers

By Kélina Gotman, Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies

It is mid-July. The vote for Brexit has happened, leaving many stunned into silence or shocked into outrage, or a combination of both. We haven’t managed to advertise extensively for the smooth & striated: form event and consider cancelling. Then reconsider. It will be strong – perhaps strongest – in small numbers, with a focused few. To do it now means to allow ourselves the luxury (is it a luxury?) of … for lack of a better term … going with the flow, thinking on our feet. Improvising. And that’s also what it is about: ways to think together in a space, on our feet, drawing; to read, transversally, to cut across a couple of texts and discover resonances and recombinations, to think laterally, perhaps.

We have decided for this event to focus on two key texts in twentieth-century art and philosophy, and to rethink not only their critical genealogies (the way Pierre Boulez’s work on pulsed and non-pulsed time, in “Time, Notation, Coding” in particular informs Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s arguably far wider-reaching and still inestimably influential chapter, “1440: The Smooth and the Striated,” from Capitalisme et schizophrénie 2: Mille Plateaux), but also the way both these complex works trouble ways of thinking linearity, teleology and what seems to be an overwhelming preference for the rhizomatic in contemporary art, including particularly in music and dance.

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Currents of Intimacy: Performance Lab

By Sylvia Solakidi, student on the MA in Theatre and Performance

On November 30th 2015, performance projects developed by the students of Performance Lab – an MA module run in the English Department during the autumn term – were presented in the Anatomy Museum, Strand Campus. The module was taught by Dr Harriet Curtis as a workshop comprising performance-based activities, student-led practice and seminar discussions on, among other topics, aspects of intimacy in the work of influential performance artists that have attracted vivid scholarship during the last decade.

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Reimagining the Witness in the Eternal City: Who is the Last of the Cencis?

By Ioli Andreadi, theatre director and Visiting Research Fellow

A group of Italian journalists enter the rehearsal room, interrupting the rehearsal in order to have a look at the space. The three actors – Miltiadis Fiorentzis, Eleana Kafkala and Maria Proistaki – the set designer, Dimitra Liakoura, and I stop because the reading of the play requires quiet and solitude. One of the journalists asks us what play we are working on and we reply. He says: “Ah! The Cenci family is Italian and I happen to know the family’s last descendant. Franco Cenci is my friend. He is an artist whose work is inspired by his family.” I ask him whether he could introduce me to him. I write down my e-mail address on a piece of paper, using big letters, to make sure there’s no misunderstanding. He promises to introduce us. The group leaves. The rehearsal continues.

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Postcards from Mindanao

In July 2015, one King’s PhD researcher and a group of Philippine community artists, academics and documenters undertook a two-week ‘RoRo’ journey in Mindanao, the largest island in the southern Philippines. The journey was part of PSi#21, an international Performance Studies research project, which coordinated conferences in fifteen locations across the globe in 2015.

By Ella Parry-Davies, PhD student in Performance Studies

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