An update on the gender-balance policy on behalf of the Board and Director of the Abbey Theatre

An update on the gender-balance policy on behalf of the Board and Director of the Abbey Theatre

8 December 2015

At a recent meeting of the Board of the Abbey Theatre, it established a sub-committee to develop a gender-balance policy for the Abbey Theatre. The members of the sub-committee are Loretta Dignam, Deirdre Kinahan, Niamh Lunny and Mark Ryan. The sub-committee will be meeting for the first time on Monday 14 December and will then make contact with the Waking the Feminists Group to begin an engagement process. We look forward to working with all stakeholders including Waking the Feminists, Abbey Theatre staff, the theatre community and others to develop a gender-balance policy and a detailed plan.

Your Comments & Reviews


Dear Abbey Theatre Board and the Sub-committee on Gender Balance in The Abbey,

It is encouraging to see a considered response on the part of the board and a commitment to get the ball rolling on this initiative.

As this engagement evolves and continues, I think it wise to acknowledge that ‘equal’ can’t mean the same thing in The Abbey as it would in non-artistic enterprises. Equality for women playwrights, directors, designers, etc. should take appropriate failure rates into consideration and artist development should also be a factor. Gender balance in terms of employment positions, where product quality is not at stake, is fine but when it comes to the development and nurturing of quality, gender balance cannot be measured directly in terms of 3 women and 3 men.

O’Casey had years and Lady Gregory’s support to write his first 3 failed plays before The Shadow of a Gunman was written. Shaw’s first plays were barely stage worthy, and without the influence of Ibsen, he might never have finished Widower’s Houses. Brian Friel’s first plays were tepid at best, and he blossomed after his stint at the Guthrie. Artists need room to fail and mentorship to persevere.

While the quantitative numbers of productions of female playwrights should at least be equal with men on the main stage, (I believe that women playwrights should be produced 274 times over the next 20 years, while 36 productions are given to male playwrights, but I’m an extremist) the level of support and room for failure should significantly favour women.

Male playwrights have been allowed to fail since Homer and their successes are in the canon because of (not in spite of) those failures. The bar is already set extremely high for women playwrights, who are forced to carry the weight of our entire gender on their shoulders. (When was the last time you went to a terrible Mamet play and thought, ‘Wow, men really can’t write’?) It would be good to remember that pressure produces diamonds only after an awful lot of very long years.

I am also not suggesting concessions for women in any way, the need for failure does not have a gender bias and is supported by history, when during The Restoration new plays were mostly abysmal because there hadn’t been any plays written for about 40 years, it took male playwrights at least a decade of failures before they started to produce anything of note or worth. So opening the doors to women playwrights now might be equal to Charles II reviving theatre in the 1660’s - on the other hand, just because The Abbey hasn’t been producing women playwright’s works doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds of unread works ready to see the light of day - but in either case, plays usually can’t be refined and honed without lots of tangible activity supporting the process.

Best regards,
Stephanie Courtney

Good to hear. Shame it was not noticed before. Disappointed that 1916/2016 schedule has still not been adjusted to accurately represent the population. In order to replace half the staged plays I suggest you put all their names in a hat and pick out half . The other half can be staged 2017 or elsewhere. Proper call out to women and choose other half. Ensure funding is in place from Board and just get on with it. Ensure special anti bullying/ best practice training for all and make sure they all pass it before being allowed in power. Gender balance is easily achieved , counting matters. Looking forward to continued changes.

That’s fantastic. I’m also really looking forward to hear about the steps you have taken to redress the balance in the programme for next year.

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