The Irish Times view on gender equality moving centre-stage in Irish theatre
A positive example for other areas of the arts and elsewhere in society where women are underrepresented
File photograph of a ‘Waking the Feminists’ demonstration in front of the Abbey Theatre. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
Irish theatre has come through a difficult and challenging period of introspection and examination of its ethos. First it had to confront the gender imbalance and bias brought to public attention by the Waking the Feminists movement. This seismic grassroots campaign was quickly followed by the allegations of inappropriate behaviour against the Gate Theatre’s former director Michael Colgan, adding “dignity at work” issues to the list of necessary reforms.
The theatre sector has now responded on a collective basis to these concerns in the form of a gender equity policy document that is a blueprint for a new and welcome model of practice. The document includes a detailed series of measures that have emerged out of a heart-and-soul dialogue within the sector. The requirements will apply to the future mechanisms of the organisations and venues that have signed up to the policy which covers both on-stage and backstage considerations: commissioning and casting as well as staff training and board membership.
Among these progressive steps, one that might raise eyebrows is the introduction of widescale “gender-blind casting”, particularly if it resulted in any distortion of authorial intent and design. Not every text is as malleable or amenable to gender interchangeability as the Shakespearean one. This won’t necessarily fully address the dominance of the male voice or inequality in theatre, so the priority must surely be to ensure ample female presence on stage through more present-day writers being women and, as the document correctly advocates, a re-examination of the canon.
What now remains, of course, is implementation of the aims of this shake up – sensibly set down to be achieved over a five-year period. Theatre is but one corner of the cultural landscape and what has been accomplished with great momentum since the Waking the Feminists initiative first raised its flag stands as a example not only in other areas of the arts but also elsewhere in society where there is an under-representation of women.