On Tues 3rd May, Tiny Fires hosted a panel discussion on female playwrights featuring Terri Paddock, Tanika Gupta, Anna Jordan and Chris Campbell. Below are the highlights from our live twitter feed - snippets, not verbatim!
Terri: Introducing @Tanika_Gupta who has written 100s of plays and screen plays! Tanika became a full time writer in the 90s. Introducing Anna Jordan @WAPtheatre who trained as an actor and is the Bruntwood winner for Yen! And of course Chris Campbell @cncsw1, Literary Manager at the Royal Court.
Chris: My mother said I never should appear as the token man on a panel! There's a huge appetite for new plays. The Royal Court don't talk about 'women' writers. Last year produced 4 plays in a row by women. BUT the one play that transferred from The Court last year was by a man - HANGMEN. We need to think about why this is.
Terri: Has your career been hampered by being a woman?
Tanika: Definitely yes! And has been hampered by being Asian. A massive part of the problem is reception of female plays. Still sexist discourse so we need more female reviewers and more female gatekeepers. There's a culture of men supporting other men – which is partly a power play too - with writers. That support doesn't seem to exist for women.
Anna: When I think about my career as an actor and writer I found it very very hard to break into the industry. The Bruntwood prize made it possible for me to make a career from writing. I didn’t consider that it was my gender that might be holding me back.
Chris: Coming back to the point on male writers. I think that’s very interesting. We also never talk about plays by men advancing theatre for men as they not viewed as needing to do that. They don’t have the responsibility that female writers do in that sense.
Tanika: I think that’s true and applies to responsibility for your race too. I’m always getting in trouble for writing Asian characters that swear! I was a judge when Anna Jordan won the Bruntwood for Yen. It’s anonymous so I had no idea but I was delighted to find it was a woman.
Anna: After I won the Bruntwood lots of people told me they didn’t think it had been written by a woman. I think this might be because of the level of violence in it.
Chris: Do you also think it’s the sexual nature of the violence?
Terri: Do you know the identity of writers when they submit plays to the Royal Court?
Chris: Yes. Always. I think anonymity can be a bit of a red herring. Often you know who has written the play anyway.
Tanika: I disagree! In the case of Yen; I didn’t have any idea who’d written it or any of the Bruntwood shortlist and found that really helpful.
Anna: Re the Bruntwood, I think the anonymity is a great thing. The shortlist is nearly always at least 50% women and often more (as opposed to 30% of plays produced being by women in London) so it obviously helps in redressing the gender balance of work being produced.
Question from the audience: what can we do to encourage young women to write and be involved with theatre generally?
Tanika: We have a responsibility to write more roles for women and BETTER roles too.
Audience member: I think it’s such a shame that there a so few female writers on the drama syllabus. We seem to have regressed!
Panel all agree!
Question from the audience: how did Anna transition from being an actor to a writer?
Anna: I did a lot of self-producing. Trying things out with friends and wanting to see it on stage. If you’ve just graduated from drama school then use the resources at your disposal – actor friends, free space etc. I was also part of the Royal Court writers group; I definitely recommend joining a group.
Terri: So we’ve been talking about gender imbalance in writers but there’s also a massive imbalance in stage too. I looked at the figures recently and it was 10:1 male to female parts on the West End. Do writers have a responsibility to write more roles?
Tanika: I think we do. I also think more gender-bending is a really good idea.
Chris: There’s also a shift where men are feeling more comfortable writing parts for women. For instance People, Places and Things. I hope this means more men are going to write parts for women too!
Anna: I’ve always felt more comfortable writing parts for women. My dad was an actor so maybe that’s part of it.
Tanika: Plays are mostly about things going wrong, hence women meeting sticky ends. It’s not always sexism but it can be.
Anna: You write about the world that you’ve experienced and if that includes sexism and objectification then your work is obviously going to reflect that.
Terri: How do we feel about introducing quotas to get more writing by women produced?
Tanika: Quota is a bit of a dirty word isn’t it?! But I actually think it’s a good idea. It’s sad that it’s needed but it is. I’d also like to see a quota for black and Asian British writers too. There are so few and more needs to be done to address this.
Chris: A quota last year would have actually meant we needed to drop some women! I think it’s interesting how two thirds of theatre tickets are bought by women. Maybe they should make a stand about what there is to see?
Anna: Previously I wouldn’t have agreed with quotas but I think if they were for a limited time they could be helpful. I think that sense of rebalancing could be helpful.
Terri: In an ideal world what do you want to see British theatre doing for female writers?
Tanika: We are going in the right direction. We need a broader perspective from reviewers and more diversity in critics/gatekeepers of theatre I think.
Anna: I think we should think about how we can support writers throughout their careers, rather than just when they’re young!
Chris: All playwrights are miserable and frustrated. They all think their work isn’t being produced enough!
Terri: Thanks to all the panel for joining us!