Women in Theatre and Screen (WITS) is a Sydney-based collective, run by practising artists on a volunteer basis, fighting for real workable change in the industry to ensure that women are represented equally and with integrity across all fields in the theatre and screen industries in Australia.
As part of the strategy to achieve this aim, WITS and Australian Plays joined forces in 2015 to create a database which foregrounds women in theatre. Its mission, along with the 50 Plays in 50 Days social media campaign, is to recognise and celebrate Australian female playwrights and, more broadly, plays that explore a diverse and complex view of what it means to be a woman.
As far back as 1983, Dorothy Hewett launched the Australia Council’s Women in the Arts report with the following statement:
We have something of the utmost importance to contribute: the sensibility, the experience and the expertise of one half of humanity. All we ask is that we are able to do this in conditions of complete equality.
More than thirty years on, we are still not there.
The outspoken advocacy of the Australian Women Directors' Alliance (and many freelance artists across the country) over recent years has made an enormous impact, in terms of both visibility and actual appointments, but we are still nowhere near Dorothy’s vision on a consistent basis. It is not yet hard wired. In 2016, out of ten funded mainstage theatre companies around Australia, only three reached gender parity in their programming of writers and directors. In 2018 all 10 theatre companies achieved gender parity or better across their Australian season – though it was noted that in some instances that was more a reflection of the low number of Australian works programmed. Nonetheless, a marked improvement.
Figures provided by the Australian Writers’ Guild in their annual report – The National Voice - are an essential tool to observe key trends:
- In 2015 of the 58 works by Australian playwrights 43% were by women.
- In 2016 of the 47 works by Australian playwrights 39% were by women.
- In 2017 of the 52 works by Australian playwrights 44% were by women.
- In 2018 of the 58 works by Australian playwrights 62% were by women.
Quite apart from less income, prestige and visibility for our female playwrights, not reaching gender parity on a consistent basis will inevitably result in a less diverse and less exciting theatre scene for audiences. However, the fact that the percentages climbed from 11% in 2011 to 62% in 2018 gives us a powerful take-home message: