For a number of years now, there has been serious concern about the under representation of women directors with Australia’s major professional theatre companies, including our own. At the 2014 Season Launch in September, MTC Artistic Director Brett Sheehy announced the inaugural Women Directors’ Program, our most concentrated effort yet to help redress the imbalance. Over the course of the year, a group of emerging and midcareer directors will have ready access to the MTC organisation, its professional culture and its audiences and will be provided with leadership and career development support. The hope is that in coming seasons, boosted by our support, these women will be directing mainstage shows for MTC and other professional companies throughout Australia.
More than seventy applications were received and, from these, thirteen directors were chosen to take part in our inaugural program: Olivia Allen, Bridget Balodis, Naomi Edwards (pictured), Lucy Freeman, Petra Kalive, Nadja Kostich, Sarah Kriegler, Elizabeth Millington, Janice Muller, Kate Sulan, Yvonne Virsik, Ingrid Voorendt and Claire Watson. Many of these names might already be familiar to you: all have been building careers on the independent scene over the past few years; some already have had success with Australia’s major theatre companies, especially directing Studio and Education shows. But there has been something of a glass ceiling when it comes to moving up to direct mainstage productions. Our program has been designed to help create a way up and through.
For director Naomi Edwards the key benefit of such programs are to turn outsiders into insiders: ‘They bring you into the conversation, inside the building, to form relationships inside the Company, to get to know people artistically. I guess the thing I’m hopeful for is that this will be a fabulous two-way conversation, us with the Company and the Company with us – or, in fact a three-way, with a conversation between the women directors ourselves. For me, the program is about growing as an artist and developing towards having my own work programmed at a mainstage level.’
Admitting that this is the first Affirmative Action program she has taken part in, Naomi sees the dearth of women directors at the highest level as part of a larger problem. ‘I only really got interested in the cause of women directors when I saw a need for greater diversity in the culture that’s making art in this country. Classes, ethnicities – there’s so much under-representation. It’s across the board. I think we must deal with gender on our way to dealing with opportunities for a wider range of people.’
With most of the thirteen directors in this year’s program being in their twenties and thirties, the new program is also designed to help fill a generational as well as a gender gap. The pool of women directors that MTC has drawn on over the past few years has tended towards established talents, those who broke through as mainstage directors in the eighties and nineties: Robyn Nevin, Pamela Rabe, Nadia Tass, Gale Edwards and Jenny Kemp. The clear message is that mainstage companies have not been providing the same opportunities to our present generation of up-andcoming women directors. It’s a lapse the program has been designed to address.
And while we expect benefits to flow to the chosen directors, the Company stands to benefit from the program, too. As Naomi Edwards points out: ‘Bringing together such an exciting group of women with such diverse practices inside MTC will have to be as fruitful for the Company as it will be for us.’