"I think the main thing the Abbey can do right now is listen" - The Women’s Podcast

Belinda McKeon, Fintan O’Toole and Dr Brenda Donohue join the #wakingthefeminists debate

’In many ways the Abbey has inadvertently provided a platform for a conversation that’s needed to happen for a very long time’ Belinda McKeon on The Women’s Podcast. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

’In many ways the Abbey has inadvertently provided a platform for a conversation that’s needed to happen for a very long time’ Belinda McKeon on The Women’s Podcast. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

“One of my concerns with a programme like this is the message it’s giving, not just to the current generation of artists, but to emerging generations of female artists and artists of minority groups - that there’s no place for you on the Abbey stage. I’m not saying that’s intentional, but it’s real and it has to be acknowledged,” writer Belinda McKeon told Kathy Sheridan on this week’s episode of The Women’s Podcast.

“I think the main thing the Abbey can do right now is listen,” she said.

The Abbey Theatre recently announced its centenary programme for 2016, Waking the Nation. Of the ten plays on the programme, only one was written by a woman - a “monologue written for children” by Ali White.

The lack of female representation in theatre sparked a debate on social media and the #WakingTheFeminists hashtag on Twitter, along with a flurry of letters to The Irish Times.

“This is not just an Abbey problem, and nobody is saying that. In many ways the Abbey has inadvertently provided a platform for a conversation that’s needed to happen for a very long time,” said McKeon.

Also joining the discussion were Dr Brenda Donohue, whose thesis was on the work of women playwrights, and Irish Times Literary Editor, columnist and theatre commentator Fintan O’Toole.

In her research, Donohue found that from 1995 to 2014 only 11 per cent of the plays staged by the national theatre were written by women.

“How are you changing your own structures so that women feel this institution is for them just as much as it’s for men? I don’t think we’re going to get a solution to the kinds of questions we’ve been raising until there’s a change in the national theatre itself,” said O’Toole.

Fiach Mac Conghail, director of the Abbey Theatre, has released an open letter to everyone taking part in the debate.

“I regret the gender imbalance in our Waking the Nation programme for the significant year ahead. The fact that I haven’t programmed a new play by a female playwright is not something I can defend,” he wrote.

“Our challenge now is how to address this imbalance both here at the Abbey Theatre and nationally in the arts community and beyond.”

A public meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday the 12th of November, at a venue to be determined.

Also on the podcast this week, Sheridan spoke to bestselling author Cecelia Ahern about her new novel The Marble Collector, about a woman who stumbles upon a collection of marbles in her father’s possessions.

She talked about writing, her family and her struggle with panic attacks while in college.

“At that age, when you’re really supposed to be out enjoying life and living, I didn’t want to be doing any of that. I took myself away from everybody and wanted to live in my own little world,” she said.

In light of discussion about women in theatre, The Women’s Podcast wants to know about the plays by women that you have seen and enjoyed.

Our question of the week is: What’s your favourite Irish play written by a woman and why?

Listeners are invited to tweet their answers @ITWomensPodcast, post to our Facebook page or email thewomenspodcast@irishtimes.com.

Individual episodes of the podcast are available on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher.

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