The Invisibilty Factor: Women in Canadian Theatre

During last fall’s Making a Scene conference, a session was held on Women in Theatre. The discussion exploded and there wasn’t time enough for everyone’s voice to be heard, so here’s another chance to weigh-in. As columnist Kate Taylor noted, “Canadian theatre…simply cannot afford to ignore half of the available talent.”

In the late 70’s and early 80’s Rina Fratticelli produced a report, “The Status of Women in the Canadian Theatre,” proving that women comprised only 10% of the total number of produced playwrights, 13% of the productions’ directors, and 11% of the companies’ artistic directors. The worst offenders for employing women were “The Group of 18” theatres that received “the highest level of Canada Council subsidization.”

YET women form “the vast majority of theatre school graduates as well as the vast majority of amateur (unpaid), volunteer and community theatre workers as well as the majority of theatre-going audiences.

So things have changed now, right? …right? ….?

In 2004, Equity in Canadian Theatre: The Women’s Initiative created an ad hoc group which, headed by Rebecca Burton, recently released a study. They discovered that women currently account for 28% of the produced playwrights, 34% of the working directors and 33% of the country’s artistic directors.

Better. But moving too slowly.

The study discovered that “the triumvirate of power” – the triangle of artistic director, director, and playwright known as the control nexus of a company – is primarily made up of men, especially in the “big business” theatres. The majority of female ADs head-up smaller, under-resourced and financially unstable companies, and they are often stigmatized and labeled “special interest groups” as a result of their decision to stage plays by women. (While companies with female ADs produce female playwrights 38% of the time on average, companies with male ADs do so only 24% of the time.). Companies run by men hired female directors 24% of the time, whereas companies run by women hired female directors for 55% of their productions.

The “invisibility factor” of women in Canadian theatre means that an unbalanced, biased view of Canada and Canadian culture has been perpetuated; one that fails to represent the diversity of the nation.

Let us not forget that an estimated 59% of Canada’s theatre-going audience is female.

The study proposed several plans for action on this front, but the question the Flying Monkey now asks is, WHAT DO YOU THINK?

*information sourced from PACT survey: Status of Women in Canadian Theatre