Friday, June 29, 2012

Gender-imbalance, light fittings & Ephron

There's a awkwardly-written article on the Guardian website with the headline: Subsidised theatres have too few female roles, Equity says - Actors' union finds male roles outnumber female roles by average of two to one in publicly funded companies. 

I say awkwardly-written not because of its content but because there's one sentence that appears to be unfinished: "But despite contacting the theatres twice, the union received a "disappointing" response, with only eight ." Note the gap between 'eight' and the full stop.  Seems like something's missing there.  And further down we have a paragraph that tells us about various plays currently showing that are dominated by male casts; in the next paragraph we have the same information all over again in a barely rearranged fashion.  Curious. And most unusual for The Guardian, whose online website is one of the best, I find. Or at least one of the best that I actually read.  

The subject of gender inequality in theatre productions intrigues me.  For one thing you can't necessarily blame the production companies, especially those committed to producing classic plays.  If you're going to do Shakespeare, for instance (and two of his plays are among those noted) then you're bound to have a gender imbalance, since the parts for women in these plays are severely restricted.  I went to an evening a while ago in which a group of young people, male and female presented much truncated versions of three Shakespeare plays.  Depending on the director and the casts these worked - the version of Hamlet, in particular was very well done, but the version of Cymbeline was a bit of a mess.  In these the casts were pretty evenly mixed between male and female, with many of the original male parts being played by girls.  However this isn't something you can readily do in a professional theatre production, I don't believe.  

And here in Dunedin, when we were trying to find men for Grimhilda! back at the end of last year and the beginning of this one, we struggled because two other musical societies in the town were producing two very heavily male-dominated productions: Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.  So we had a problem with gender imbalance from a different perspective altogether.  

Two other productions the Guardian writer, Alexandra Topping, mentions are Billy Budd and Chariots of Fire.  Hmm, you'd be hard-pressed to add any women to the roles in those productions.  Billy Budd is set aboard a ship where women weren't present anyway, and Chariots of Fire is about a race in which only men appeared.  It's probably coincidence that so many of these pieces are on at the moment.  

What are production companies to do?  Certainly there are plays in which there are plenty of women's roles, and good ones, but theatre has tended to reflect a society where men have the active roles and women don't.  That society has changed is certainly true, but it seems that playwrights aren't yet reflecting that enough.  I can't think of any play, off the top of my head, that's female-dominated in terms of roles, and certainly there aren't that many plays that have only females in the cast.  

Perhaps it's an issue as to what producers will put on.  Although playwright Stella Duffy [at right] says that women make up the majority of the audiences - 70% according to her - producers still produce plays in which men take the leading roles, or, if the women have leading roles, there are also plenty of males roles as well.   It may also be indicative of a society in which men take the leading 'active' role in stories, like it or not.  There are female superheroes, but not as many as there are males.  And if you really want to check out inequality in gender, look at the movies that are made.  Males dominate there too.  Except perhaps in so-called 'chick flicks'.  But are chick flicks addressing gender imbalance, primarily?  And what is the theatrical equivalent of a chick flick?  

Looking a totally different question altogether, I'm intrigued to see metal switch plate covers being advertised.  These are things that you put over light-switch fittings to stop the children playing with the wires - or to prevent adults inadvertently plugging themselves in instead of the electrical device.  Metal seems an odd choice for this.  I haven't seen metal fittings for years (we used to have old-style round ones in the house) - plastic seems to be the norm.  I guess metal is less likely to go on fire if anything goes wrong, but equally isn't it likely to pick up an electrical charge more readily than a plastic cover?

Just a thought - it made me go and check out a couple of the round switch plate covers in our bedrooms.  It just occurred to me that we might have metal ones after all.  Nope, they're some other material, but they aren't metal.

And one final thing.  Nora Ephron, a screenwriter whose movies balanced out male and female roles with ease and delight, has died - this is already 'old' news, I'm sure.   The Guardian wrote an article about her too, but it linked to a list of things Ephron said she wouldn't miss, and things she would miss. The two lists are a great deal of fun, and warmth and humanity.  Just like Ephron's stories.


Anonymous said...

Just popping in to add some background to the Guardian piece - most of the 43 theatres contacted by British Equity (and the Hampstead Theatre mentioned in the Guardian piece) are NOT committed to performing the classic repertoire, many of them in fact are considered 'new writing' theatres, and they are still tending to produce more work about male characters. Here's my blog with more info :

all best,

Mike Crowl said...

Thanks for contacting me about this, Stella. I appreciate having more info about it. And thanks for the link to the blog. That was very helpful in getting a better handle on the situation (the Guardian article, I'm afraid, seemed to have been written in an awful hurry, somehow!) I've copied your blog post for future reference.

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