Saturday, 23 January 2016

Theatre Thoughts: Women Leaders

Women in Leadership Roles in Theatre

I've written a couple of times about my observation that there is a distinct lack of women in the higher echelons of theatre.

Image Source: simpsons.wikia.com

Yesterday I attended the final part of the research degree I have been taking; the oral presentation. One of the other students had been researching the leadership skills needed by head dancers, but it was a comment of hers that started me thinking.

She mentioned that during college, and training, the students were not taught to lead; the teacher taught and the students followed. Fair enough, but this was enough to spark my train of thought; try and follow!

Throughout our performing lives, we follow: the director directs and the actors obey, the choreographer demonstrates and the dancers copy. All well and good, but for women, this progresses to another level; we always follow. In ballroom and latin dance it is the men who lead, in ballet the men lift and support (yes, they tend to trot around after the ballerina, but when something spectacular is needed, then nine-times-out-of-ten, it is the men who are called upon.). In other areas too, maybe it is because there are so many male directors, choreographers and musical directors, that female performers become so used to being told what to do by a man, and accepting this as the norm, that it becomes difficult to accept anything else?

Edgar Degas: The Ballet Class
Image Source: wikiart.com

Psychologically I find this interesting, looking back on all of the times I have been directed by a man, versus a woman. Interestingly, even though the scales are tipped very much on the side of the men, it is the women I have been directed by that I remember the most, for being the more innovative and willing to push the boundaries (I was once cast as a skinhead thug in a college production, a role that I was remarkably unsuited to, yet received glowing praise for! It forced me well outside my comfort zone!)

So maybe this is what needs to change? But it's difficult: because there are so few women in leadership roles, it is rare for young performers to come across them, so they are not exposed to the experience of being told what to do by a woman. As they grow and progress in their careers, it is less likely that they will have any role models to aspire to emulate and the situation becomes self-perpetuating. If more women are promoted to leadership roles, then more young women will become aware of these career pathways.

The more there are, the more there will be. But there needs to be more in the first place!



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