Creating an inclusive future for Ireland’s theatres

The Irish theatre world is to tackle gender discrimination with new policies, JULIE KELLEHER, Artistic Director at the Everyman explains
Creating an inclusive future for Ireland’s theatres
Julie Kelleher of the Everyman Theatre in Cork, speaking during the launch of the Gender Policies of ten prominent Irish Theatre organisations at the Lir National Academy for Dramatic Art, Trinity College Dublin. Picture: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

FOLLOWING the first anniversary event of #WakingTheFeminists at the Abbey in November 2016, a number of organisations of varying scale were invited to a sectoral meeting later that afternoon. A key theme across the Abbey event was the need for concerted action. As our colleague Olwen Dawe noted, “awareness of the issue was an important starting point, but not the complete solution. That now the sector was ‘woke’ to the issue, it needed to consider key actions, measures and policies required to actively promote gender equality.”

The meeting was attended by 28 leaders and board members from the Irish theatre sector. This event took a broad survey of the issues facing organisations as they embarked on a journey to make change where gender inequality and lack of diversity are concerned, but also demonstrated the strong desire from the theatre sector to grasp the nettle.

It was acknowledged that meeting as a sector in an informal, collegiate, consistent and supportive way would be key to maintaining momentum and effecting sustainable change. From this, a small working group was formed by representatives from the Lir, Cork Midsummer Festival, the Abbey, Corn Exchange and the Everyman to focus on policy. Following two initial meetings, we sharpened our focus, and also added members from a range of other organisations: Fishamble, Rough Magic, Druid, Dublin Theatre Festival and the Gate, and Lian Bell as freelance representative. This group was keen to convert aspiration into action, and that principle, we learned, is the key to making change happen.

Through the course of several meetings, and informed by some of the provocations offered by the #WakingTheFeminists movement, we decided our role would be to work on developing detailed Gender Equality policies unique to our own organisations, which might then be shared more broadly across the sector as potential templates for others to follow. The primary function of the group was to support each other as we worked individually to devise those unique policies.

We committed to working over 12 months on these tasks. We met regularly to share information and support each other as we progressed. We all read very useful texts, such as Iris Bohnet’s brilliant exploration of unconscious bias in education and the workplace, What Works, and Lucy Kerbel’s survey of the work undertaken by her company Tonic to make positive change in the British Theatre sector: All Change Please, as well as other online resources such as the Swedish checklist tool for gender equality. All of these were hugely helpful in shaping the policy documents that we have written.

We figured out that in trying to tackle a problem that had so many facets, it was in fact our diversity that worked in our favour. Each organisation in the group has its own set of challenges, and in tackling those in particular, then our collective action can be seen as a holistic approach.

We agreed to create policies “with teeth” - that is policies that set out where we want to get to, but more importantly, a set of actions that will help us get there, structured according to four pillars: Governance, Staffing and Recruitment, Programming and Industry. These pillars helped us to breakdown the various actions required to make change.

18 months later, on July 9, this work culminated in a launch of the ten policy documents by Minister for Culture, Josepha Madigan TD. Measures proposed include: gender blind readings for plays, unconscious bias training for staff, creating gender balance within board membership, 50% of a new play commissions to be allocated to women writers, addition of Dignity at Work clauses to employees charters, and achieving gender balance in programming within a five year period.

We found it illuminating and useful to work together as we created our individual policies.

We’ve been able to share challenges and solutions with each other, in a positive and supportive way, and because of the closely networked fashion of the group, we’ve been able to hold ourselves and each other to account, to ensure that we reached this point, and that we set this precedent for the future. All members of the group have committed to measuring data on an ongoing basis, and to publishing progress on an annual basis.

It is our hope that the policies created by each of the organisations will act as templates addressing the various components of the ecosystem that is Irish theatre, and act as a resource for our colleagues as they work to make their own workplaces more inclusive and more equal.

It has become clear that many of the goals set out in our policies, apply not just to the goal of gender equality, but to shared goals of increased inclusivity across the sector generally.

In essence, these policies are a roadmap for how Irish theatre can become more inclusive not just where gender is concerned, but where ability, race, ethnicity, sexuality and class are concerned too — this gives us great hope for creating a rich and inclusive future for theatre in Ireland.

Julie Kelleher is Artistic Director of the Everyman Theatre. She will be directing the theatre’s production of Martin McDonagh’s “The Lonesome West” which opens on July 31st. Booking on www.everymancork.com

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