Women make their way to centre stage in Irish theatre
Good roles can be hard to find, respect must be hard won, and heavy lifting can still cause problems - but much has changed in the theatre world
‘All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It, “and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”
But how many parts does a woman play on the modern Irish stage?
A landmark research project in the UK recently exposed a two-to-one inequity in the British theatre, concluding that there are double the amount of men as women employed across the various theatrical professions.
If Ireland has historically lagged behind the rest of Europe in many aspects of gender politics, how does it fare in its treatment of women who tread the boards? How do women involved in Irish theatre right now feel about their place in the current theatrical landscape?
The Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards have highlighted the increased visibility of women in Irish theatre over the years. We ask some recent and current nominees for their point of view.
The director: Annabelle Comyn
I worked in the UK for 10 years in the early part of my career and, although I didn’t consider it at the time, the statistics were loaded in favour of my male contemporaries.
I worked hard and got entry as an assistant director at some of the top theatre companies in London, but I think the real challenge [for a woman] is how you progress beyond that, to the next level of your career.
It is always difficult to assess whether I was discriminated against for being a woman, as it is rarely blatant and transparent, but I felt that once I was no longer looking to be guided, nurtured, taught, this led to greater tension. I think I became a risk factor once I wanted to direct my own work.
In part, this might be to do with the fact that the canon of work produced both in Ireland and Britain is predominantly written by men.
Putting a young female director in a rehearsal room with mostly men in a play written by a man predominantly about men is sometimes a step too far within theatre’s historical and cultural framework. Unfortunately, this legacy means employers can have a loaded and difficult decision when considering women directors, especially for the first time.
And so I have found, for myself and other women directors, that it takes many more years to build up a level of trust.
Of course the knock-on effect is that you are still considered young when you hit 40, but more importantly, it means you get on the financial ladder years later.