Female-led Theatre and the Representation of Women in Theatre by Ivy Lamont
Are you tired of seeing the same female characters on stage and time and time again? Of persistently auditioning for the role of ‘the girlfriend’, ‘the mother’, or ‘the victim’? Let’s face it, we would all like to see some more dynamic and three-dimensional female characters we could really get our teeth into. It’s shocking that 65% of audience members are women yet most of the time, the full wealth and complexity of our being has yet to be translated to the stage.
Why is this?
It seems our female writers have gotten a handle on exploring the depths and flaws of the female psyche, having experienced it first hand for themselves. Then why is there a lack of this in our theatres?
The first thing to consider would be that female playwrights just aren’t being given enough access to our major platforms. In the year spanning from 2017-2018 only 28% of the plays performed at The National Theatre were written by women, despite the fact that the organisation aims to achieve a 50/50 gender balance by the year 2021. This isn’t helped by the fact that ultimately the decisions regarding programming are left to those in higher positions which are – you guessed it – predominantly male. This being said, The National Theatre is one of the few well-recognised organisations taking big steps towards gender (income) parity, paying their female employees 3% more than their male counterparts in 2017. Whilst their neighbours at the Southbank Centre have yet to settle their 18.3% disparity in favour of men…
But let’s get back to topic.
Where do we go from here?
Ideally, we’d like to see more women in top managerial roles in established theatres, as they so often pave the way for smaller institutions. In other words, we need female-led theatre! While we are seeing increasingly more women in these positions, there continues to be slow evolvement in this area.
Secondly – and it’s great that this is already taking a strong root in our industry – it is so important to keep creating female-led work. In doing so we are taking a proactive approach towards bringing the female voices and characters we want to see on stage… working from the ground up in order to change the quota on what is being offered in theatre.
Finally, keep spreading the word! In order to address this imbalance we must first acknowledge the full weight of it. There can be a tendency to limit the conversation to specifically gender-oriented platforms. This reduces the issue to reach only audiences who actively participate in these platforms and isolates the problem. The more we can keep the conversation alive and circulating, the more we can bring it out of the shadows and into the light.
The whispers are catching and the winds are changing – let’s create a storm!
5 Steps to Positive Empowerment Before Auditions by Ivy Lamont
So it’s the day of your audition. You’ve done your job and learnt your lines like a good actor, and you’re ready to go!… And then the nerves creep in. Like an unwanted visitor, overshadowing you with self-doubt and worry. But do not fear! This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s perfectly normal to feel this way and can be really positive if you learn to shift your perspective slightly. The good news is – the power to do so is entirely yours!
Here are five things that have helped us to feel empowered before and during auditions.
The first thing is to notice how you are feeling on this particular day. Be it excited, nervous, happy, sad, relaxed, angry, frustrated – just observe. And do so with an acceptance of that state, tell yourself you are only human and it’s OK to feel whatever you are feeling. By doing this you make way for that emotion to pass through you and change. Have you noticed that when you punish yourself for something it only leads to more of that thing…? It’s ridiculous but we all do it!
2. Self talk.
As you observe, notice the nature of the thoughts entering your head. Ask yourself: are you being kind to yourself? Are you speaking to yourself as though you were speaking to a dear friend? If not, STOP! Not the easiest thing we know, but instead of thinking about things you don’t like about yourself (for they are rarely ever true), gently replace those thoughts with things you DO like. Maybe you have a talent for making people laugh and spreading joy, maybe you’re a fantastic singer or even a talented actor (imagine!!) Whatever it may be, it is SO important to start channelling this positive energy from as early on in your day as possible. Remember to remain grateful for what you have- no-one likes a big ego.
What do you do before auditions? Do you have a pre-audition ritual? If not, find one! It can be anything that brings you joy and/or makes you feel centred and grounded. Dancing to your favourite song, doing some yoga or voice work, or just being plain old silly. The key to nailing that audition is entering the room with a light heart and openness to play. Forget about the outcome-that’s out of your control. The most important thing is that you feel good about yourself when you leave the space. (Top tip: if your head is feeling extra muddled, maybe try some free-writing, all it takes is a pen, paper and whatever is in your head – no judgement necessary!)
As you make your way to your audition and while you wait, be careful not to let all your wonderful preparation slip! Keep conversation in the waiting room to a minimum and respect that other actors may need quiet for their own preparation. If you really need to chat to expend some energy, find a receptionist or someone who has a moment to engage. Otherwise, keep observing your thoughts and remember that you are awesome! Maybe you’d like to listen to your good vibes playlist on your way? Whatever you need to do to maintain a state of positivity.
Before and as you enter the room – breathe! Check in to see if your breath is connected to your centre. If you find your breathing is high and shallow just bring your attention down to your belly. Remember: if you relax and enjoy, so will the panel!
Inspiration for Actors- The Sherling Backstage Walkway at the NT
As actors, we’re always seeking inspiration. Whether it’s attending a workshop to learn something new or to connect with other industry professionals, seeing a heralded actor work on stage or screen, or reading a recommended play, even when we’re not working, we’re working.
Luckily for us, London and the rest of the UK is rich with opportunities to learn. There are historic sites to visit before acting in a period drama. There is our brilliant range of theatre, ranging from the opulence of the West End to the unique tradition of pub theatre. And throughout the country, the range of accents alone is enough to keep an actor busy learning something new for months, or more likely years!
Another inspirational learning opportunity that I discovered recently is the Sherling Backstage Walkway at the National Theatre. The Sherling Backstage Walkway offers visitors views into the busy production NT workshops for set construction and assembly, scenic painting and prop-making. It is a behind-the-scenes look at how a large-scale theatre like the National really functions and it’s pretty amazing! Access is from the Gallery Level in the Dorfman Theatre Foyer and it’s absolutely free, just walk up!
You’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the workshops, in one, a massive house set being built for When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, starring Martin Crimp and Cate Blanchett (in her National Theatre debut!) The props workshop houses everything from thrones to flowers to old-fashioned telephones… anything and everything that might be used in an NT play. Along the walkway, there are examples of set pieces and costumes, with more information about, for example, how they achieve a burnt look to wood or how the wigs and costumes are created.
While you’re there and in a behind-the-scenes frame of mind, check out the (again, free) exhibition Playing with Scale: How Designers Use Set Models. Production models include those from Exit the King, Antony and Cleopatra, The Life of Galileo, Antigone and The Comedy of Errors, each of which went through many iterations, taking into account the designer’s vision, the director’s vision, and how the set actually functions with getting actor on and off stage. Also included in the exhibition is a history and video of the famous five-story Drum Revolve stage, located in the National’s Olivier Theatre, another unique and integral part of how plays are presented in that space.
Seeing the sheer scale and production value of everything that happens at the National is inspirational for anyone, but as an actor, it really reinforced my goal to work there. It also reinforced the excellence that goes into everything that they do- and the continued work that actors need to do to achieve those heights.
I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. Just the word resolution makes me think of wasted gym memberships and broken dreams. That’s not to say that the new year isn’t a great time to re-evaluate. It is! But instead of coming with a vague list of “new you” ideas you’ll likely not keep, why not set some honest goals to truly make this year exactly what you want it to be?
Here are my tips:
Create your vision
Expand your resources
Pick your passion
Create your vision
What do you want your career to look like? I suffer from “I want to do everything” syndrome. Theatre? Absolutely! Film? Bring it! Commercials? Sure! Voiceover? Yes, please! Corporate?… well, you get the idea. This year, I’ve decided to make Theatre (with a capital “T”) my focus. Yes, that probably means I’ll get called in to castings for everything else, but at least I know where to focus my energy.
This is where I take issue with so-called “SMART” goals. The R is for realistic, and admittedly, there’s no use setting a goal to be an Olympic gymnast at my height (5’10”) and my age (none of your business!)
But shouldn’t you set goals that are as big as your dreams? One successful actress I know told me that she maps out her acting career for the year, including the number of plays (or films or commercials) she plans to do and when. And, for the most part, it works for her. I’m convinced that’s because she knows exactly what she wants, when she wants it- and she does the behind the scenes work to go out and make it happen.
Whatever your goals, give them a deadline date. If you just decide you’d like to be in your first feature (at some point), or for that matter, lose five kilos (eventually), there is NO sense of urgency. You know what makes things happen? A looming deadline. And accountability, so let someone close to you know your goals (and deadlines), so they can-lovingly!- follow up on your progress.
Expand your resources
What’s the definition of madness? It’s not actually repeating the same thing and expecting a different result, though there is a reason people say that! If you want to achieve new things, you have to expand your reach and your knowledge, meet new people and keep your mind open to unexpected possibilities. Might we suggest a workshop with us to do all of these things?
Pick your passion
Finally, don’t set goals you don’t want to do. The trend this year, at least in advertising, seems to be Veganuary. But what if you love meat? You’ll give up after a week!*
Choose goals that fit you, whether for your acting career, your fitness or your life goals, so that you’re excited about working on them and achieving them. Success isn’t the same for everyone as your goals shouldn’t be either.
We wish you the very best for the new year and know that you can live your goals and dreams- hopefully these tips will be one step toward them!
* Please note: I fully believe in the benefits of being a vegan, especially for the environment- I just know it’s not for everyone! There is a really cute pig if you follow the link, though.