Where are the girls? Playwright fires up

An emerging Sydney playwright’s brave move to question the number of female playwrights on the Sydney theatre scene next year has created somewhat of a war of words, with Company B boss Neil Armfield denying there is a “boy’s club” at the Surry Hills-based theatre.

In a blog on her website, Joanna Erskine questions why Company B’s mainstage season next year features just one female writer or director – Lee Lewis directing the Polly Stenham play That Face.

“I struggle to understand how such a prominent and successful and LOVED company such as Company B Belvoir, has openly produced such a female-less season,” Erskine said.

“I don’t mean actors, I mean females in integral creative roles – as playwright and director.”

Quietly – or in some cases publically through social networking sites – the theatre world has been buzzing about Company B’s female-less season.

Erskine does not believe the lack of females is a deliberate move.

“I don’t think for any reason that you deliberately tried NOT to program or hire female creatives, that would be ludicrous,” she said in an open letter to Company B.

“Although I fail to see why we are not thought of in the same way as male creatives. We pop the champagne and celebrate how exciting it is to have Madman make a comeback, but I was sitting in that audience counting the female writers and directors in that room who would produce theatre just as good (or better) than their male counterparts, if given the opportunity.”

In The Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday, Neil Armfield hit back.

“‘When it comes down to planning each season, you just have to go with the best ideas, the best projects that are out there,” Armfield said.

“I had interviews with half a dozen women directors, and we actually offered three women gigs for next year, and only one of them was taken up, which was Lee Lewis.”

Company B is not the only company lacking female playwrights. Next year, the Sydney Theatre Company is dominated by male playwrights and directors. The same goes for the Melbourne Theatre Company.

The Australian Women Director’s Alliance has written to the Melbourne Theatre Company.

“We have a number of concerns about what we believe is an ineffectiveness of the University of Melbourne’s Equal Opportunity Policy as applied by the Melbourne Theatre Company,” the letter said.

“You may or may not be aware that there is considerable discontent with what is perceived to be a lack of opportunity for women in key creative roles within the Melbourne Theatre Company. We note that women (and also culturally diverse theatre practitioners) are rarely offered work as directors at the MTC. At the 2009 Green Room Association Awards ceremony there was a comment published in the programme about the imbalance of gender equity on the main stages of Melbourne companies and also several less formal comments made from the stage during the evening. None of these public comments reflected well upon the MTC.”

Erskine said on Wednesday she stood by her original claims.

“It’s been a crazy week and a half since I posted about this, but I don’t regret opening the topic up for discussion, even for one second,” she said.

“I never foresaw, and certainly never planned for this response. I suppose this week I have learnt the power of the humble blog.”

Erskine’s original post has polarised the theatre community.

One response to her blog said: “I would like to state that this is not a gender equality issue: its a blindingly obvious disregard of some of our city’s most established and promising new talent. We cannot let it go by without comment.”

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