The furore about the lack of women in the National Theatre’s new season is deserved – they have the status, the money, the support and the personnel that so many other companies do not – they are not doing as well on inclusion as those so many other companies. This is not OK. There have also been too many promises about employing and working with more women writers and directors and they have not been kept. Again, rubbish.
But theatre is just a symptom, a symptom of the patriarchy that underscores and damages everything in our culture. Our western theatre is based on the Greek version – designed by and for men, to prop up patriarchy and to maintain a status quo. Get all the people with any power (men) catharting in a single space and they’ll choose not to riot elsewhere. (Massive over-simplification, I know, but it is the basic idea.) Greek/western theatre was set up by men to deal with men’s concerns – state and religion. And our theatres now, all of the main spaces, the big buildings, are based on that form – we’ll stand here in a specific space, you sit down there and shut up and watch us doing stuff.
It is ALREADY a heirarchical and separating form. It doesn’t have to be – devised and improvised work shows us that, as does a great deal of community and participatory work, but the majority of funded theatre in the UK conforms to this very trad, very patriarchal, divisive form.
Patriarchy thrives on hierarchy and separation. It thrives on dividing us up – the day that the straight, white, middle class, non-disabled man suddenly realises HE is the minority (compared to all the multiplicity of the rest of us) MIGHT be the day he realises he has a duty to represent more than just those like himself. To make that point, we – everyone else – need to come together. We white women need to make more space for women of colour/BAME women. You straight people need to make more space for us queer people. Those of us with disabilities and health conditions need space. We cis people can work harder to understand the othering and outsider difficulties of trans people. The middle class stranglehold on the arts has to stop. EVERY ONE OF US needs to support each other, make space for each other, make for and with each other.
Theatre – and the arts generally – tend to think we’re pretty good on this stuff. “At least we’re not the City.” ‘At least we’re not as bad as …” Fuck that. IF we happen to notice that there is inequality THEN we have to be better. Just be better. Don’t say ‘it’s hard’ as if that is a reason. It’s hard AND we do better anyway. Of course it is hard, we are using a form (theatre) invented by and for men of power and trying to make it fit the current world – trying to make it work for people who do not have power, trying to be better. Making a difference IS hard. OH WELL.
Perhaps it’s not possible. Perhaps (western) theatre is inherently patriarchal and therefore it will never be truly inclusive, the us/them of artists/audience means it can never be fully for, by and with ALL. And perhaps we can try anyway.
image by Jen Toksvig – the Chaosbaby company co-creating. Mixed genders, mixed races, mixed ethnicities, mixed ages, mixed sexualities, mixed abilities, mixed classes. Not impossible.