Sunday, 2 October 2016

Tonic Theatre: gender imbalance in performing arts

I am currently on holiday and enjoying the time away from work to think about things that I don’t normally get the time to think about.  I thought I’d write up a few thoughts I had on the symposium I attended last week.  I went to Tonic Theatre’s symposium at Central School of Speech and Drama.  I had been invited by Lucy Kerble, Director of Tonic.  I had no idea what to expect and didn’t know much about their work.  So when one of the first things of the afternoon was to find someone you didn’t know and tell them why you had attended I came a tad unstuck!

In all seriousness though, the afternoon was geared towards presenting Tonic’s Advance 2016 project, which is a 6 month project bringing together cohorts of performing arts organisations to help them identify and understand the causes of gender imbalance in their institutions.  The National Theatre was one of the participants and our findings and conclusions can be found here.  The gender balance pie charts at the bottom of the page are particularly interesting reading and you can start to see where women are lacking but also where they are failing to develop in their careers eg. assistant directors are even male and female but directors are not.  I would have liked to have seen some administrative staff figures in there.  As someone who works in ‘Arts Admin’, a term I’m not very fond of, it would have been interesting to see what the balance is there.

But this data gathering, while interesting, wasn’t what really hit home for me.  It was quite astounding to be in a room of about 300 theatre, opera and dance people, all of whom were there because of their concerns about gender equality in the performing arts.  It was heartening to see so many institutions, who may ordinarily be seen as rivals, coming together to tackle a common problem.

I know that this is a big issue but I had never given a lot of serious thought to it as it seemed quite removed from my day to day work.  This afternoon, though, made me realize that it is in every aspect of our lives and isn’t something that you can ignore.  Perhaps I wasn’t as aware of it because I am in a predominantly female profession and I have never felt discriminated against because of my gender.  I have, until recently, been part of an all female team and the wider Learning team is mostly female too.  This in itself is a problem and I really don’t understand why more men do not enter the archive profession.

A useful part of the day was considering what are the barriers to change, not just in performing arts, but more generally and what are then the catalysts for change.  This felt to be like a bit of Clore thinking and it was really great to work in groups to brainstorm how change can be effected and what barriers we might have to encounter.  Being aware of the challenges and roadblocks to advancement is empowering and can only make the fight for change stronger.


A valid point was made towards the end of the afternoon when it was noted that we also need to be tackling ethnic and socio-economic diversity as well as gender equality.  Everyone agreed but these are big battles to fight and will take time.  In the meantime, take a look at Tonic’s website and see what the project partners have discovered and have pledged to change as part of Advance 2016.