Is it a case of more funding, fewer women in the arts?

8 Jun 2017

Image: SomTaste/Shutterstock

A report from Waking the Feminists suggests the theatres with the highest levels of state funding have some of the lowest female representation in the country.

The Abbey Theatre represents a major chunk of Arts Council funding in the Irish theatre world. The €76.6m it received between 2006 and 2015 added up to more than that of the Gate, Druid, Project Arts Centre, Ark, Dublin Theatre Festival, Rough Magic, Dublin Fringe, Barnstorm Theatre Company and Pan Pan Theatre combined.

According to a study by Waking The Feminists – a movement campaigning for better female representation in the arts–  this does not translate to the Abbey showing better gender balance than the rest of  the Irish theatre scene. Far from it.

Future Human

Waking the Feminists

Money talks?

Over the course of the 10 years measured, the study showed the Abbey had female participation rates of just 20pc and 17pc, respectively, in director and author categories.

These were some of the lowest among all organisations surveyed, and the Abbey’s female representation in casts (37pc) landed it at the bottom of the pile.

The Gate, the organisation with the second-highest name recognition of all those measured, did a whole lot worse, with director (8pc), author (6pc), lighting engineer (13pc) and sound designer (1pc) representation at particularly low levels.

Not one criteria measured found either theatre to be above the average, even when it came to the generally female-dominated field of costume design.

“Women are poorly represented in the majority of key roles in the top-funded theatre organisations in Ireland,” reads the report.

“The study finds that organisations higher up the funding scale show lower levels of female representation in most roles when compared to those in receipt of lower amounts of Arts Council funding.

“This seems counter-intuitive, as one might assume that a higher level of funding would correspond with greater flexibility in hiring practices.”

The study looked at 1,155 productions, from 959 authors, with 928 directors and featuring 4,815 actors.

Waking the Feminists

Waking the Feminists is a movement that came about on the back of the Abbey’s ‘Waking the Nation’ 2016 calendar, which was formed as a celebration of the country’s centenary year.

With an almost entirely male-dominated run of plays planned, enough was enough for Lian Bell.

Within a few weeks, a media storm grew to such a degree that the Abbey was left scrambling for shelter, eventually hosting a meeting with many of those aggrieved by their lack of representation.

Bell and a growing team of supporters campaigned for better representation and, after the Abbey acquiesced, Waking the Feminists took the charge national.

Waking the Feminists went so mainstream that, last year, it won a Lilly Award in New York – the first time the female participation and achievement prize went to a person or group from outside the US.

The movement was described as “a visceral explosion” by the award judges, with Julia Jordan – who founded the Lilly Awards – saying it “mirrored our own struggle in the US to have women’s stories told and heard”.

Study findings

“[The study] reveals that women have not achieved parity in any of the roles studied, except for costume design,” reads the new report.

“Critically, women are represented at lower levels, at just 28pc, in the key category of author, a role that is of central importance in Irish theatre history, and retains a significant authority in contemporary work.

“The organisations that showed highest levels of female representation are the Ark, Rough Magic Theatre Company and Dublin Fringe Festival.

“These companies are in receipt of lower amounts of public funding compared with the Gate and the Abbey Theatres, but show high levels of female representation. It’s difficult to say what common features they may share, but we recommend further investigation.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic