8 March, 2017

It’s International Women’s Day, with the campaign theme for 2017 being #BeBoldForChange.

Here at ICTheatre, we’re boldly celebrating all the amazing women in the theatre industry, past and present, whilst also looking at what can be done to encourage a future of equality and diversity.

International Women’s Day is a global day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Find out more here.

Women in theatre – a brief history

  • In traditional Greek and Roman theatre, it was considered ‘dangerous’ for a woman to be on stage; a lot of the time men would play both male AND female characters.
  • Despite this, there are still many female characters of their time that were represented well, for example, the Greek mythological character of ‘Antigone’ – the mortal daughter of Oedipus – was depicted as ‘strong in every way imaginable’.
  • The first English woman to appear on stage was Margaret Hughes. Marking theatre history on 8th December 1660, she appeared as ‘Desdemona’ in Shakespeare’s Othello at the Vere Street Theatre.
  • The second half of the 19th century brought a great change in the dynamics of theatre, with female playwrights, females acting on stage and a prominence in female audiences. In fact, women were seen to be directly responsible for the rise of popularity in theatre.

Unfortunately, inequality is still present in the theatre industry today – for example, within the National Portfolio Organisations, 76% of Artistic Directors of theatre are said to be male while statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal that out of those who study dramatics in the UK, 70% are female. Both statistics are examples of where gender equality is needed.

For us to move towards a future of gender parity, we must look at how certain traits remain attached to gender roles. In a generation of gender fluidity, it’s important for a more widespread gender education, as well as building a foundation of awareness.

Lucy Kerbel, director of  Tonic Theatre, works to address gender inequalities in UK theatre. In an article for The Stage she wrote…

“When it comes to the question of how we can achieve greater gender equality in the theatre industry, I think there’s a similar principle at play to how we put a show on stage. It will only happen, and happen in the best way possible, if a whole range of people are involved in its creation and can bring their own particular talent, skill and interest to the mix.”

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