WITS is a Sydney-based collective, run by practising artists on a volunteer basis, fighting for real workable change in the industry to ensure that women are represented equally and with integrity across all fields in the theatre and screen industries in Australia.
As part of the strategy to achieve this aim, WITS and Australian Plays have joined forces to create a database which foregrounds women in theatre. Its mission, along with the 50 Plays in 50 Days social media campaign, is to recognise and celebrate Australian female playwrights and, more broadly, plays that explore a diverse and complex view of what it means to be a woman.
As far back as 1983, Dorothy Hewett launched the Australia Council’s Women in the Arts report with the following statement:
We have something of the utmost importance to contribute: the sensibility, the experience and the expertise of one half of humanity. All we ask is that we are able to do this in conditions of complete equality.
More than thirty years on, we are still not there.
The outspoken advocacy of the Australian Women Directors' Alliance (and many freelance artists across the country) over the past five years has made an enormous impact, in terms of both visibility and actual appointments, but we are still nowhere near Dorothy’s vision. In 2016, out of ten funded mainstage theatre companies around Australia, only three will reach gender parity in their programming of writers and directors.
According to figures provided by the Australian Writers' Guild, the gender imbalance among playwrights programmed on Australian stages is once again on the decline. Of the plays in the 2016 seasons, 39% of the work by Australian writers will be women, down from 43% in 2014.
Quite apart from less income, prestige and visibility for our female playwrights, this will inevitably result in a less diverse and less exciting theatre scene for audiences. Overall, the shameful numbers of five years ago are up, but they are still nowhere near parity. However, the fact that the percentages climbed from 11% in 2011 to 43% in 2014 gives us a powerful take-home message: