Brisbane Festival lacks contributions from women

Thursday morning as I was arriving home from Transit 7 (an international festival of women in contemporary theatre curated by Odin Teatret actress Julia Varley), Margi Brown Ash was attending the Brisbane Festival launch at the Brisbane Powerhouse. An impressive program it would seem, but something is amiss, as she describes here in her blog.

As Margi notes with disquiet, there is no image of a woman in the program until p.17 (Ute Lemper, German cabaret artist) and the next image is the show Margi herself is in (Wizard of Oz, p.26). 

Reading Margi's blog on Thursday felt slightly surreal, especially as I was (and am) absolutely full and overflowing with the beautiful and awe-full work of women artists from around the globe. I am still digesting experience of spending two weeks living at the Odin theatre and attending masterclasses, workshops, symposia, talks, work demonstrations, work-in-progress showings, and performances from 8am until midnight every day. I am still digesting the generous and enthusiastic feedback for our Ladyfinger work-in-progress showing of The Prayer. Emerging from her engagement with the international Magdalena Project, Julia Varley's bi-eniel Transit festival provides multiple references of women as masters of craft. It provides a program abundant in the female imaginary; a rich outpouring of the creativity of women (diverse, discordant, dangerous, delightful, damning).

Margi asks "Where are the women artists who entertain sufficiently well for the Brisbane Festival this year?" Well, speaking globally, about 150 of them were in Holstebro, Denmark last week. And that's before taking into account our talented national and local women theatre artists (I was one of only two Australians at the Festival. There would have been three of us if Margaret Cameron had been able to attend).

Maybe Margi is right and we have to learn to market ourselves, but changing the status quo (which the Brisbane festival program reflects) will take more than women artists doing marketing courses. As Julie Robson asks in response to my facebook thread on this subject: "I wonder if Noel Staunton or anyone at the Brisbane Festival ever heard of the Australia Council's 2012 report on Women in Theatre (written by Professor Elaine Lally in consultation with Professor Sarah Miller"

This report, released last year, concludes that in the past decade there has been no progress in the representation of women in Major Performing Arts Companies and the Theatre Boards Key Organisations, and that there is evidence of deterioration of the situation for women in creative leadership roles. This situation is further amplified by the many talented women theatre-makers, directors, and performers who struggle to find a platform for their work. Given that the report recommends a cross sectoral approach that involves these three inter-related elements:

  • Information: a systematic approach towards the compilation of a regular ‘scorecard’ of indicators, so that the state of the sector and any advances can be tracked and monitored
  • Accountability: adherence by companies to best practice gender parity objectives set by company boards and senior management, and reported against as part of annual reporting
  • Vigilance: individuals taking responsibility for the integrity of the decision-making they make themselves and of those around them." (Page 4-5)

Julie asks, "Who is up for providing a little Information, Accountability and Vigilance during the Bris Fest?" 

It's an important question. My instinctual response to Margi's blog was to propose a 'Guerilla Program' of women's theatre work in alternative spaces to run simultaneously with the festival. Within hours of making this proposal on fb I was contacted with offers of space. Today the first possibilities of performance offerings. The Australia Council Report on Women in Theatre suggests a strong spine for any action we might take or program of works/events we might curate. Let's get together and talk about it.

WHEN: Saturday July 6, 2pm - 5pm (NB 2pm - 2:35pm I will be showing the Ladyfinger work-in-progress of The Prayer - solo version)

WHERE: Judith Wright Centre, Music Rehearsal Room, Level 4.

WHAT TO BRING: Your Passion and Intellect, Questions and Solutions, And maybe a cushion.

Hope to see you there,


PS If you are reading this and don't live in Brisbane please post a comment/question/suggestion for me to share at the meeting on July 6.