Women's theatre festival launched to counter gender disparity on stage

The grassroots campaign Women in Theatre and Screen, Australia (WITS) has announced plans to stage a two-day festival celebrating feminism, theatre, comedy and writing in October this year. Called Festival Fatale, it will be supported by the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, with performances in its Eternity Playhouse. 

It was actually the Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s 2016 season launch which inspired WITS to form in October last year. Only two plays from the company’s season are written by women and, at the time, none were to be directed by women (Helen Dallimore has since been announced as the director of their production of David Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre).

But that’s part of an industry-wide gender problem, with just a few companies bucking the trend. Recent figures from the Australian Writers Guild show that 39% of plays produced by our major theatre companies in 2016 are written by women, down from 43% in 2015.

The program will be pulled together by a board led by festival director Lizzie Schebesta and artistic and directorial associates Jennifer Rani and Rachel Chant. They will be accepting applications for Festival Fatale from May.

“We want to demonstrate that by not providing women with equal opportunity, Sydney audiences have been missing out,” Schebesta said. “Experiencing women tackle the human condition in the theatre in a complex, challenging and significant way is what personally excites me when I go to the theatre and what I wish to see more of on Australian stages. And it is my hope that Festival Fatale will excite and encourage other theatre companies in Sydney to follow our lead in this.”

The festival will include: “forgotten Australian classics, new works, works in development – with performances, workshop readings, special introductions, as well as networking drinks and cabaret and stand up acts.”

Schebesta promises that the festival will represent the diversity of people living in Sydney, and that at its core will be collaborations with the independent theatre sector.

“Not only does independent theatre play a pivotal role in providing emerging artists the opportunity to develop their career and skills, it’s a place that encourages experimentation, risk-taking and alternative viewpoints outside of the main-stream. These are key ingredients in creating true art. Art that matters. Art that is unafraid. And art that makes a difference. And that’s where I wish to see women artists in my community working.”

WITS has previously held three ‘think-tank’ sessions with packed houses at the Seymour Centre, Belvoir and Carriageworks, but this is the first major event the group has announced.

At the same time, WITS will be launching a new online portal showcasing work by Australian female playwrights. WITS on AustralianPlays.org will highlight over 500 scripts written by women.

WITS spokesperson Matilda Ridgway said in a statement: “The WITS on AustralianPlays.org database is a tool for vigilance. For promoting female playwrights, promoting stories that have a significant and complex female experience at their heart, and promoting plays that have great roles for female actors.

“We hope it leads to a richer and more diverse theatre ecology and to true parity for Australian women writers for performance.”

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