Monday, August 03, 2009

Give female playwrights freedom to write

The debate over the treatment of female writers in general and playwrights in particular continues (see here, here and here for some previous coverage).

In The Stage, Lucy Perman, executive director of women’s theatre company Clean Break, argues that sexism exists in the industry and suggests how it might be overcome.
There is still a distrust of women in many spheres and in theatre, I believe, a resistance to giving female artists a platform for their own voice. In limiting their voices, we limit our audiences’ view of the world. Expectations and sometimes desire for women’s work tend towards safe and comfortable territory, which reinforces the still stereotypical view of women in society. There’s the kitchen sink drama, the fractured lyrical poetic lament, the character-led piece, plays that aren’t overtly political, plays that don’t challenge the theatre establishment or audiences in their form or content.

Of course, I’m generalising, as there are indisputable successes that chart new territory. However, more freedom for women to write about what’s important to them through open commissions, with the right support structures and fees and, crucially, a commitment to produce, will bring new narratives on to our stages.


  1. Anonymous3:47 am

    Very interesting.

    But we are kept in our place even with success I fear.

    I disagree in a way. I think that women are expected to write political or, at least earnest pieces. Caroline Ahearn and others work (as I have done/do) in other media.

    To write witty laugh-out-loud commercial plays - we think of well known male names (fair enough - it's the text not the sex!).

    Despite having accepted an award on a West End stage for Best Play 2009 and being taken up by the Stephen Joseph Theatre - Yup Alan Akbourn & co have plucked me from the fringe, an unknown to produce my play for their Summer programme and tour. - Unbelievable. I thought life would be less of a battle of selling myself as even remotely worthy.

    I have found some resistance towards my play Howard & Mimi for being such a 'full on comedy'

    It is the most uncontroversial feel good piece, there is nothing to offend - why? Having read this I wonder if it is that women are meant to write personal and emotive stuff not life affirming & irreverent pure satire. Am I thinking out of the pigeon-hole.

    We even have other women pundits saying that women are not funny (Despite Sue Townsend etc)

    Worst of all despite having overseas companies wishing to purchase rights with some urgency, a major publisher interested, being massively critically acclaimed - Google "Howard & Mimi" - I do not lie (and being an already comissioned BBC Comedy writer and journalist) and very polite - deal filled emails with impressive links...

    I have had *coughs* 'enormous difficulty' in getting an agent. I have tried 2 people (I am most busy this summer as my beloved mother passed & I am sole executrix to a disputed will). Given I am turning up with existing actual deals just waiting to be managed, I never expected it to be'hard' Just to get a response, some civility.

    One who despite my needing an urgent deal-broker insisted on reading it, took weeks then said they had read the play and said something akin to...We can see that critics and audiences love it, we think it is well written, funny, unusual and your quotes are impressive, but we prefer our comedies more literal.

    The last one I wrote to because they also represent the Director of the Original Award winning Edinburgh & London transfered production - but more to the point represent my Scarborough production lead actors. They have behaved very curiously. I have been told that all thier agents were informed. I have not heard back from any. I have reminded and last week said "I'm good enough for one of your directors to win an award with, I am good enough for two of your clients to work with this whole summer & Alan Aykbourn likes me - please, explain why you have not responded?" That has been ignored too!

    Is it my sex? Is it my sirname? Am I am becoming paranoid? I resent that. I really should not have to be worrying about this. It certainly isn't the play. I don't mind people not liking it or me, but being ignored like I am not worth the slush pile makes no sense gave I have been responded to and told I am 'under consideration'

    Thank goodness the wonderful Writers Guild have been there to advise.
    All I want to do is write, not fight for my right to write, or defend being liked.

    As a result I have lost money and extra deals due to this 'weird disinterest'.

    Think that as a woman I should have written a novel not a play. I am happiest to write quietly in pyjama bottoms with my dog snoring, not have to be an activist for my own cause and rights when my work is enjoyed.

    I thought these battles had been fought and won long ago. Maybe like Ms Rowling I should market myself under gender unspecific initials.

    Thanks for the opportunity to offload.


  2. Anonymous6:03 pm

    Oh dear, so many bells ringing, am almost deafened! I too have had great successes on various stages but got dropped by agent I was with as I don't write for tv. However, I think that writers should be aware that it costs money for someone to go thru contracts, argue for a right here or a renewal date there. I feel as if it's my fault not making more money for them to make it more worth their while. Actors make far more money than the writers whose words they're speaking. Bully for them. Just less for me!


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