The super reinforced triple-glazed glass ceiling of theatre

Carys Rose Thomas discusses the battle between gender equality and age-old sexism in the theatre industry.

Carys Rose Thomas
7th November 2016
Image: pixabay

Theatre has been something I have been passionate about for as long as I can remember. Performing was what I excelled in at school, it was my favourite hobby and seemed them obvious route to go down regarding a degree. But two combined factors totally deterred me from pursuing a career in theatre. A) on average one in three acting course applicants are men and B) on average one in three acting roles go to women. Notice the disadvantage this puts women at?

I’m not saying that we should allow women to totally dominate over the world of theatre and have all-female casts with all-female characters on every stage up and down the country (although originally, that was the world of theatre for men). Diversity on stage is a good thing across both gender and race, age, sexuality… the list goes on.

[pullquote]We should make it known that women can be the faces of theatre too and - shockingly - they can do a bloody good job of it.[/pullquote]

Imagine a 100m sprint, between men and women in which the start whistle is blown and women are held back for the first five seconds of the race, well that’s the world of theatre. Men were given this head-start into an industry where all roles were written by men for men. Doesn’t it makes sense to possibly give women a bit of a leg-up in this situation? We should make it known that women can be the faces of theatre too and - shockingly - they can do a bloody good job of it.

It is ridiculous how many lead roles in the theatre are male. Since I was 9, not a year has gone by when I haven’t been in at least one play. Speaking from experience, I can tell you extensively about the sheer frustration that comes with working relentlessly hard for something only to realise that you can’t reach your full potential because - once again - there “just aren’t any lead women in this one”. The super reinforced triple-glazed glass ceiling of theatre really does exist.

It’s not just acting roles in the theatre than are still very male-dominated, there are other areas such as directing and tech, so I was over the moon to realise that Emma Rice had taken charge as Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe in January this year. It was exciting to see a woman interested in shaking things up at The Globe, who seem far too set on upholding their traditions and avoid anything “new” with a ten foot barge pole for the sake of conservatism. Sadly and unsurprising to me, Emma Rice is due to leave The Globe in April 2018.

I struggle to sympathise with the Globe’s take on this matter. They argue that Emma’s innovative vision conflicts with the authenticity of the theatre and their productions. But what “authenticity”? Surely to be truly authentic, the theatre wouldn’t even use female actors or tech workers? Surely for this sacred authenticity they strive for, Rice would have been turned away before she even got into the building on the grounds that her chromosomes are XX instead of XY? In this fight for “true” authenticity, why not go the whole hog and strive for a nice slice of authentic sexism while you’re at it, Globe?

Emma Rice had it right, things need shaking up. We should remind ourselves that change is mostly good, and fully free ourselves from these sexist shackles we supposedly shook off years ago.

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