By Joy Fisher
The Playwrights Guild of Canada announced a new initiative at its annual general meeting in Montreal recently aimed at redressing the chronic underrepresentation of women in key creative positions in Canadian theatre.
The Equity in Theatre (EIT) initiative will call on the theatre community as a whole to respond to gender inequities in the industry, according to Rebecca Burton, PGC’s Membership and Contracts Manager, who is coordinating the initiative.
“Although approximately 70 per cent of theatre audiences are women, and women make up 50 per cent of PGC’s membership, only 22 per cent of plays produced in Canadian Theatres in 2013/14 were by women playwrights,” Burton said. PGC’s Theatre Production Survey revealed that percentage varied by province, with Manitoba scoring highest at 44 percent and British Columbia dragging the bottom with only 18 percent of produced plays by women.
The percentage of productions by women playwrights reached a record high between 2000 and 2005 when 28 per cent of productions were plays by women according to an Equity Study published in 2006. “The figures demonstrate an actual regression since then,” Burton noted.
A key component of the initiative will be a Symposium to be held in Toronto in April 2015 facilitated by an equity and diversity consultant funded by Canada Council’s Leadership and Change program. Participants will include partners from industry organizations such as Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, Canadian Actors Equity Association, Associated Designers of Canada, and Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas as well as associations of the underrepresented, such as Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario, the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance and Artists Driving Holistic Organization Change. The end result will be the development of a first draft of a strategic plan for improved equity in the theatre industry as a whole.
In the year following the Symposium, a series of monthly play reading events will be held across Canada in partnership with Play Development Centres and other organizations. Other events and community actions will also be developed. Women patrons, for example, could exercise their consumer power by demanding more plays by women (reflective of their own reality and age demographics) from the theatres they support.
A research project will seek to identify successes in the industry and to establish best practices. A website will be created as an informational hub to facilitate meet-up groups and provide advice on how to create social actions. It will also house a searchable database of Canadian women artists, including playwrights, to serve as a resource to communities.
The desired outcome is to see representation rates rise to 50 percent, which would not only provide increased opportunities for women but would also produce a more balanced and inclusive vision of Canadian society for audiences to enjoy. “We’ve studied this problem for years,” Burton said. “Now it’s time to act.”
The official public launch of the initiative will be in September 2014.
The link below will take you to the PGC website and Valerie Sing Turner’s lyrical and compelling article Redefining Normal: A Challenge to Canadian Theatres & Artistswhich explores equality and redefining the norm in Canadian theatre. www.playwrightsguild.ca/sites/default/files/FINAL_POV_V.S.TURNER.pdf
Joy Fisher is a UVic writing graduate and a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada.