Women in Power

BY Almeida Theatre   January 23, 2017

While she owns things, the country isn’t safe.
Look, it’s a weapon if it’s in her hands.

(Mary Stuart, Act I Scene I).

More than four hundred years on from the reign of Elizabeth I, arguably the most iconic female leader in British history, the reality of women in power today is debated on the Almeida stage. Catch up on highlights of the discussion below as Tanya Seghatchian chairs a panel including Sonia Friedman, Laura Bates, Lucy Kerbel, and Dawn Foster.

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Tanya Seghatchian: Thank you all for coming this afternoon to this Almeida Questions on Women In Power. We have about an hour with this illustrious panel, who I'd like to introduce you to. Laura Bates is sitting next to me here and Laura is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, and also the author of Everyday Sexism. Next to her is Dawn Foster, who's a writer on politics, social affairs and economics. We have Lucy Kerbel, who is the founder of Tonic Theatre, an organisation which is focused on gender equality in the theatre, and Lucy's also an award-winning director in her own right. Next to her is Sonia Friedman, who recently topped the Stage 100 list as the most important person in theatre, and Sonia's widely regarded as one of the most innovative and influential producers working in the British theatre. She's produced over 140 new productions and won numerous Olivier and Tony Awards, so we're very lucky to have these women with us on the stage today.

My name's Tanya Seghatchian, I'm a film and television producer, and I also formerly ran the film funds at the British Film Institute here in the UK, and I hope to be able to chair this debate by asking everyone to talk to me a little about what they understand ‘Women In Power’ to mean, in the context of the Mary Stuart show, which is currently on at the Almeida.

Sonia, can we start by asking you what being a woman in power is, and why you agreed to do this, and if the whole issue of being at the top of the Stage list is relevant or irrelevant in the context of the conversation?

Sonia Friedman: I agreed to do this panel I think last year, before this list came out, and I've always had a problem with the term power full stop, but I said yes to it because actually I wanted to explore myself a little bit about what that meant doing the job I do, because I generally don't have the time to stop and think about myself within a structure, I just get on and do the job. Over the New Year this - it's quite a famous list if you work in theatre, and I'm sure most of you are aware of it. It's been going for probably 30 years now, 40 years, in fact I don't know how long. By surprise, I got put right at the top of it, and it's normally theatre owners - Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Cameron Mackintosh, and so I got this top billing, top of the pops as people say, and I immediately sort of felt embarrassed by it, because I think as a producer, certainly doing my job, I never think of myself as the power. You're completely reliant on the people around you to create the work, and my job is just to facilitate and to ensure it happens.

The really interesting thing that's happened in the last couple of weeks since this list emerged has been the amount of fantastically supportive people that have come out and said congratulations ... but many of them have said congratulations on being the most powerful woman in theatre, and I've looked at the texts or the emails that have come through and I've had to check myself, because actually what I want to reply is, "Actually, I'm the most powerful person. Full stop."

Tanya Seghatchian: And then you sound really arrogant [laughs].

Sonia Friedman: Yes, of course you do, and you can't do that. But knowing this chat is coming up, I've been questioning my reaction to that, because it's come from both men and women, singling me out as a powerful woman, not a powerful person. A lot of the men have said, "Good on you, at last there's a woman at the top of the list," but as you can see, it's been complicated, because I can't just be a person at the top of a list. I feel I that I have a responsibility now, and that is also complicated because I've never done my job feeling I have a responsibility towards my gender. I'm sure we'll come on and talk about that, but I've just done my job.

So, whilst it's great to celebrate that I can represent women, and they can reach the top, and we don't have to own buildings and we don't have to be multi-billionaires to do it, it's also terribly important to me that I'm not perceived as a woman. That it's a gender equal business that we're in, and I happen to be a woman, and the first woman. I'm still processing it, and I'm still processing whether it's a good thing or not that I'm singled out as a woman.

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Tanya Seghatchian: Do any of the rest of you feel that you have previously or are defined by your gender, or that you are using it to enable yourselves to promote your interests and personal issues in the way that you want them to?

Dawn Foster: I think, I'm a journalist foremost, and I think at the very beginning of my career I noticed certain ways I was treated very differently to male colleagues my age, and one was that if I pitched an article, most editors would say, "Okay, but what's your personal experience?," or they would imply I didn't have enough knowledge to cover it, whereas all of my male colleagues were seen as kind of experts. So their expertise was taken as a given, but when they were commissioning women, they would always ask women to write from personal experience. So they wanted stories from women, but they wanted hard facts from men, and that was quite hard to break away from. I spoke to a male colleague who said that often he wanted to write some quite personal stuff at the beginning of his career, and he said he only felt able to later, so I think there was a double bind in that way. Also, the men often do get much more work than you do.

There was a study by women in journalism a couple of years ago that looked at two things. One was the number of bylines - stories written by women in newspapers, and the other one was looking at how often the subjects of the stories were women, and they found that maybe half of the women mentioned in the paper had either been attacked or killed, and actually most times there were more stories about women getting murdered than stories being written by women. The front pages were nearly always photos of men, bylines by men, etc. A newspaper wasn't a very gender equal thing. We've seen women's mags close in as well, so I think there is still that ... you have to fight to be seen as an expert, whereas often for men it's taken as a given that they will understand without having to prove their experience.

Lucy Kerbel: It's interesting, because when I was directing, and I say when because at the moment it's put to one side because I just don't have time to do Tonic and do plays, but I think there's also a divide about identity, which might be in part about gender. I would say when I was directing, probably in people's minds I was a female director and it would be interesting, if I would, I don't know, speak to a literary manager, and as a director sometimes literary managers will give you plays and go see what you think, and I did begin to notice that I tended to be given the plays by women or about female issues. There seemed to be a presumption about what I would be interested in.

I think doing the job I do now, because I've sort of gone out of my way to set up a structure within UK theatre, which is about the role of women in theatre, I think I'd struggle to do that were I not a woman, although Tonic works very hard to make sure that men are engaged in the work we're doing as well as women, because we all need to look after this.

I think there's also a delicate thing where equally I think the conversation has to be led by the female voices in the room but involve the male voices in the room, so I think I'd probably struggle to do what I'm doing ... I wonder if I were to give up Tonic tomorrow and try and do something else, I don't feel like I'm described as a female who runs an organisation probably, because it's so blindingly obvious that it is about gender, but if I were to go and do something else, if I were to for instance, go and be an artistic director, I think I would probably again be considered a female artistic director rather than just an artistic director. I think that's often the case with women that if you are ... you're permitted to speak very publicly about things when they're about female issues, but actually when you try and do anything else then that's either not good or you get given that additional mantle of 'a woman' producing shows, or 'a woman' writing as a journalist, or 'a woman' whatever.

Tanya Seghatchian: Well Laura, clearly if Everyday Sexism is your project then you cannot avoid the fact that you are addressing it every time you open your mouth.

Laura Bates: Yes, I suppose that's true. I think it’s something that's thrust upon us as women perhaps, generally speaking, more often than we self-define as a female X or Y. And I think that it's done so commonly that we don't really think twice about it, in the same way that Sonia was saying it's a label other people ascribe to her rather than something she ever set out or had thought about previously. I think that's really true across the board.

A really good example of this was when Rona Fairhead was poised to take over the BBC, and I looked at The Telegraph business section and there were lots of articles about very high profile, powerful men moving from one business job to another, and it was "Wall Street Heavyweight moves from Pepsi Co to wherever else", that kind of thing. And then in the same newspaper, in the same section, with very much the same storyline, somebody very powerful in a high profile position moving from one job to another, the headline read "Mother of three poised to lead the BBC". It's quite extraordinary how much we define women and force them into that because of the lens through which the media presents them.

I was really fascinated to see how much actually that happened to me even given the topics that I was discussing. Earlier on in my career I noticed that when people were talking about the Everyday Sexism Project for the first time, they'd open an article by talking about my appearance, by talking about what I was wearing in the interview, even though the whole thing was an interview about sexism and gender stereotyping.

I remember really vividly one of the first interviews I ever did, I had a phone call from the picture editor of one of the biggest newspapers in the country, to do a photo shoot to go alongside this interview, and he said, "I've basically got two ideas. Either I want a picture of you in a micro mini skirt walking past a building site being wolf whistled at, or, I want you dressed as a sexy office vamp with your stiletto heels standing on a man's throat." What was fascinating was that basically he wanted me to be a bitch or a victim, that was the idea of what I could be to be talking about sexism, I had to be either a man hating, terrifying, feminist monster, or I had to be a victim and seen through that lens. So I think it's fascinating that even when we're talking about these issues it's so ingrained that we present women through these stereotypical lenses.

Sonia Friedman: Yes, and just to follow up on that, I've not had that experience, but whenever I do a press interview, and I get asked a lot, there's always the question about my marriage, whether I'm in a relationship, whether I have children, how I've managed to ... what's it like to not have children, when I say I don't have children. The thing is, I think, there is still this sort of confusion and fascination that a woman can rise to the top of her profession and not have all these other complicated things going on. Now, I am unusual because I don't have children, and I somehow always feel I have to defend my position by having got to this position because I don't have children. So I find myself almost negating what I've achieved because I say "But then, I haven't had the family and I haven't had to do that". It upsets me that I have to justify my private life and my choices I've made in order to demonstrate why I've managed to find the time to do my job.

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Tanya Seghatchian: But irrespective of whether you were being asked those questions, I assume they are all questions that we, or you, ask yourselves, or have asked yourselves in the course of the choices you've made to get to where you are today, and therefore they are pertinent questions. I'm not saying they're ones that should be shared, but...

Sonia Friedman: They are, of course, and that's what I'm saying. I'm saying that actually I can see from the media’s point of view, they are relevant questions because also we are still trying to fathom out how women can run companies, run a country, have a family, have it all. So I can see that they are relevant questions.

Dawn Foster: But why aren't they asking the men? It's like...

Sonia Friedman: But they're not, because men can't have babies, you know.

Dawn Foster: Well they could stay at home, but nobody ever asks them why they don't.

Sonia Friedman: No they don't. But I am definitely somebody who's defined by the fact that I haven't had children and have managed to get there. That for me is still something I'm also working out how I respond to it. I had to do an interview last year for Front Row, and I said to the interviewer Kirsty Lang, "Would you do me a favour? Can we just talk about the work?" Because if I scan back over the interviews I've done over the years, very little is about the work. Even though I sit there and I want to talk about why I do it, what turns me on, what excites me, the business challenges, all of those things doing the job I do, it always goes off in the direction ... it comes back to the work, but it goes in the direction of me personally. As I was saying to you downstairs Tanya, it makes me feel that there's obviously still a big way to go, and whilst it hasn't stopped me, I can see that any woman who's trying to carve out their career need role models and need inspirations along the way to know that they can do it and there is no set way.

Lucy Kerbel: I think there is a real problem we have, and it's not just theatre, it's our culture about forgetting successful women, and when women have achieved things, to just sort of let that disappear. If you go back to restoration theatre, there were Sonia's. There were women who were incredibly powerful within the theatre industry as it was then. Now we have the narrative of Aphra Behn as kind of being the one woman, wasn't true. I spent a fascinating time with an academic, Julie Bush-Bailey, on this, about actually how much clout women had in restoration theatre, as writers, as performers, as producers, as funders, as donors, sponsors of the work, and they've sort of, they're just allowed to disappear.

What that means is that women who are successful in theatre are always ... it's like Sonia said, the role models, because the role models are there but they've sort of been taken out of our view. It means that if you are successful as a woman in theatre you're always coming at it from a place of sort or being depicted a bit like Bambi in that, oh look, you're new, oh how wonderful, we've got a woman. She's just sort of learning how to run a theatre. You're never depicted as being in your stride and going, yes actually, we can co-run the theatre industry. You're sort of depicted as a bit of a novelty and a fascination, and sort of, how has she done it?

Sonia Friedman: Yes, I talk about this, I quote this quite a lot, but in New York a few years ago, I'd been a producer for three years in a row where a show I'd produced won the Tony award, which was great and it's probably never happened before. I was at a post Tony's party and a very, very significant man in American theatre, I was standing with two or three other people, and he came up to me, and he patted me on the head. Seriously, he patted me on the head and said, "Isn't she doing well." I'm just remembering it now, I was so angry that I flew at him and I said, I actually said, I hated myself for doing it because I felt that he'd won, I said, "Can you fucking believe what you've just said?", and you know what, I had to promote myself to him, I said, "I've won three fucking Tony awards, you've just patted me on the head and said isn't she doing well to one of my colleagues. Do you know how patronising that is?" And he just said, "Oh, women," and walked off.

I stood there and I just thought, I literally can do no more, and I still go in, and you find you have to play a role with these people. I have to be tougher and stronger than I would like to be, because you have to push through their prejudice, even though they don't for a second think they are.

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Quote03Dawn Foster: Do you ever find in theatre that men's careers are a lot more resilient than women? I think a lot about writing and journalism and about how one small hiccup or scandal for a woman normally means the end, but men seemingly come back bouncing forever. Is it the same in theatre?

Lucy Kerbel: I think it varies depending on the role. I would say that there is maybe issues around, because we do have a tendency in this industry, if we're looking at creative roles we do still have a tendency to ... for instance, playwrights, to program women's work on smaller stages. What that means is that you're getting paid less probably, there's a smaller audience, you're less likely to get national reviews, therefore the profile's going to be smaller, it's less likely to transfer, you're less likely to get a decent royalty from it. All of these things which could ultimately kind of insulate you financially, because of course the biggest challenge for most people working in theatre is just how to stay in the game financially. So actually if ... I think all artists careers are fragile to a point, but if on top of that you're repeatedly dealing with earning less because you're in a smaller space on lower profile, and then maybe the press response to your work is less likely to be positive, dealing with all of those things cumulatively might mean you're then less resilient in terms of doing the next show, and the next show, and the next. Or getting the next show, and the next show, and the next show.

Tanya Seghatchian: But is that because the majority of commissioners are men, or is it just a reflection of the taste patterns?

Lucy Kerbel: I think it's a combination of a number of things. I think it’s taste, I think it's probably outmoded perceptions that I think both men and women hold, because it's what we've all been brought up with and unless we really question those sometimes they're quite hard to see, but perceptions around whose stories are big and fill spaces and people actually want to go and see.

I find it interesting, I have conversations with theatres where they talk about the main stage and the small stage, and they go, "and the small space are really good for female writers, we've programmed a lot of female writers there, for the main stage not many women, but that's because we have to program our box office bankers, you know, the Shakespeare's or whatever," and then I kind of go, "that's great, have you got the box office data to back that up?" And they go, "Well, no, we haven't, but that's what audiences want." And you go, "Great, give me the evidence," and it’s not there and often a lot of this stuff is perception of what audiences do and don't want to see.

Sonia Friedman: I also think it's much more complicated... sorry, I don't ...

Lucy Kerbel: No, No, and that's just one facet of it.

Sonia Friedman: I'm not dismissing what you're saying, but I think we now live in an age of film, television, multimedia. I think it's a problem not just for women, it's for producers generally, for emerging playwrights, female and male ... but actually, a lot of female playwrights get snapped up really quickly ... because you can't really earn a living in theatre. So, I don't think it's necessarily a sexist female issue, I think it's a general problem for our industry, to keep nurturing and being able to actually, particularly if you're a playwright, and you're a female, and you're a Mum, and you've got to earn a living, a lot of the theatres you're talking about £2000 for a commission, and you know, you may spend a year and a half writing that play. I'm not trying to belittle that argument, but I think we have to open it up and to actually be realistic about the challenges the industry's got generally when it comes to new writing, and keeping hold of our writers. Especially our female writers, who, you know, great, they're going off to Hollywood and TV land, and its great, but let's try and bring them back.

Lucy Kerbel: I think what you said about nurturing is also the case, because I think what we tend to do in theatre is we nurture people a lot at the outsets of their careers, almost like if you give people a bit of rocket fuel at the beginning of their career then if they're good, they'll continue to ascend, but I think a lot of the work we've been doing suggested that women's lives don't necessarily follow that smooth upward trajectory. So actually, women might benefit from boosts or a bit of nurturing at other points.

Dawn Foster: You need it all along.

Lucy Kerbel: Yes, or there needs to be more flexibility around when that nurturing or that special attention happens.

Tanya Seghatchian: Laura, I don't know whether you have a point of view about whether this notion of big stories or women's stories are small stories is something which is an inherent myth of everyday sexism, or whether it's actually something that there are ways of us tackling?

Laura Bates: I think there are, and one of the ways of tackling it, rather than necessarily in a knee-jerk way reacting against it, is to say small stories are important stories. There's often a sense of writing off something that is a family drama or something that's about intimate relationships as kind of fluff, when a woman writes it, when of course if we see a male author tackling those topics then suddenly it's something incredibly exciting and important and gritty and real. We see this a lot across literature as well I think, that a woman writing about relationships and personal issues, that is then very much pigeonholed as chick lit, whereas if a man tackles it then suddenly it's an incredibly important novel of our times. I think we could say the same, you know, we see this with Jonathan Franzen, for example, that kind of thing.

I also think that we see that in the theatre, and we see it in film, and we have to also be aware of the fact that it's the viewpoints through which these stories are being portrayed, so it's not just what's the story, it's also who is producing or directing the story. Who's writing it, whose voices are we hearing? We know that only between 5 and 10 percent of the biggest Hollywood films every year are directed by women. We know that women only take 28 percent speaking roles in those films, but they're three times more likely than men to take their clothes off on screen, of course.

This is also a sectional issue, this isn't just about women's voices, it's also about stories written by black and minority ethnic playwrights or authors, that we see that same pigeonholing. ‘Oh, this must be a story that will only appeal to a specific audience’, or it immediately becomes about those issues, it's about the fact that she's a woman, and that's what defines it. It's about the fact that this is a black writer. Whereas I think we have white men who can tackle any issue they like and it's taken at face value. It's looked at and seen within a much broader scope in terms of the way that it's perceived.

I also think it's really interesting to think about the impact that these things have, because we talked originally about perceptions, and about the way that we're presented, and about the way that we're talked about in the press. What's really important for me is to join the links between that kind of betrayal and then the more concrete issues around representation that happen as a result, because these things really matter. It's really easy to say well, ‘it doesn't really matter that we're hearing about Theresa May's scone recipe, or about her leather trousers, or her cleavage, and we didn't hear about David Cameron in that way’. Or it doesn't really matter that when a group of women get promoted to our cabinet that the Daily Mail describes it as "The Catwalk of the Downing Street Cuties", and we have a double page spread about their clothes, and their makeup, and their accessories, and what they're wearing.

What I think is really fascinating is that you then think that's the information being presented to the public by our biggest national newspaper, and at some point those people go into polling booths and they make a decision about who they want to represent them. At that point does it become important that the information they received on the same day from the press about the men who were promoted to the cabinet was details about their policies and their voting records, and what they were planning to do? Then suddenly you look at the fact that only 191 of our 650 MP's is female, that there are more male MP's right now in the House of Commons than there have ever been female MP's in history, and you start to think suddenly, perhaps it does matter. Perhaps it matters if we do suggest that a woman by the very default of her gender might not be such a good leader. Or if we suggest that Hilary Clinton doesn't quite look like Presidential material. Or that when Nicola Sturgeon took power the headlines that day were about whether she'd want to become a mother while she was in office, or about how her fashion transformation had made her look sleek as an otter. It’s fascinating that that was the actual headline.

I'm fascinated by those links. I'm fascinated that around the UK there are 573 listed statues and they commemorate people of interest and inspiration, but only 15 percent of them are of women, and just two of them are of a named black woman. That's exactly the kind of thing that when you raise it you're told, "Oh for goodness sake, it's not that big a deal, you know there are much bigger things to talk about", but actually in terms of representation, in terms of little girls growing up and thinking about the world and what they can be, I think it's really interesting to draw the dots between all these different issues which might seem minor in themselves, and the fact that we then end up in a situation where the power is held by this tiny, tiny, elite group of white men and how that happens.

Sonia Friedman: Which is why I wanted to do this, because I think without Trump, and without what's been going on in the last few months, I don't think I'd have questioned who I am in relation to the rest of the world in the same way as I am doing now. I do think we have a responsibility now. For what you said, because of the young people growing up, boys and girls, that ... I have a member of my family, he's a 12, 13 year old, who absolutely believes that women are second class citizens, because of what he's reading, what he's learning from his friends at school, Twitter ... and that's terrifying. That's in my own family. I think you're absolutely right that Trump, the politics, seems to be much more acute than it's ever been right now, and so we, as women, certainly have a role to play. But I don't think, everybody in this room, I don't necessarily think it's a female issue, I think it's a social issue and a cultural one that we all have to tackle, but as a woman, I feel I can now say something of use to other people growing up.

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Tanya Seghatchian: I think the education issue is a really significant and interesting one actually, because in a sense that's what we can do if we join up all of the dots, and Laura, that's what you spend most of your days trying to do, to educate, re-educate and inform people how to see and think differently. What would you like us to be doing?

Laura Bates: Well I think in terms of education there is so much we could be doing that we're not doing. I don't want to pull the focus too much away from ‘Women in Power’ and the theatre, but I think because these things are so closely linked, at the moment, in my opinion, the single biggest concrete action we could take that would make an impact on all of these different areas, on the under-representation of women, on gender stereotyping, but also on the further end of that spectrum around harassment and sexual violence and discrimination, would be to teach young people in schools about things like gender stereotypes, and the way they might impact on them regardless of their gender. Issues like sexual consent, and healthy relationships, and their rights to their own bodies, which I think would have a much wider ripple effect than just in terms of dealing with our epidemic of sexual and domestic violence. I think it would also impact on the way that women felt able to be in the workplace, or the way that perhaps boys grew up being aware of, and thinking more about the ways that they speak to and treat women in the workplace and in personal relationships.

What's fascinating to me at the moment is that we have this curious moment in history where we have parents, teachers, students, expert organisations, everybody crying out for this and saying for once, here is something concrete we could do that might make a difference. The Government, just today actually, has voted again to reject this measure, which could make a real difference. It's fascinating because I see these connections, you go into schools and I spend all of my time in schools, I've just come from a school today, and when you talk to young people the overwhelming message is confusion.

You talk to girls who are 7 or 8 years old who say, "Well, girls aren't allowed to be airline pilots because you have to be good at maths, and girls make too many mistakes." Very matter-of-factly, and from such a young age, and with no sense of being vindictive the boys will say these things as well, "Well boys can be doctors, but girls should be nurses," or "girls couldn't be paramedics because you have to be very brave." They rattle these things off, and it's the same when you come to discuss issues around relationships, well it's not rape if he's your boyfriend because you have to have sex with him, because he's your boyfriend. Or they talk about things they're seen in online porn and they're really confused. I was talking to a girl who was 13 years old and she said she was so scared to have sex that she cries nearly every night because she didn't realise until she saw a video on a boy's mobile phone at school that when you have sex the girl has to be hurting and crying.

And this is a really common misconception. I was in another school the other day where they had a rape case involving a 14 year old boy, and a teacher had said to him, "Why didn't you stop when she was crying?," and he had looked straight back at her and said, "Because it's normal for girls to cry during sex." So we genuinely have this moment where we know that 60% of young people are 14 or younger when they first see online porn. We know these ideas are out there and they're confusing for young people of any gender, but we're not giving them the tools to deal with these things, these common life situations, in the way that we teach them maths so they can make change in a shop, and teach them to read a map so they can find their way. We don't give them the tools to navigate these things and I think that that is a much broader issue than just sex and consent, because it also informs the way we behave in the workplace. We mentioned earlier, feeling should I say something, doubting ourselves, blaming ourselves, instead of seeing the problem for what it is. I think that actually a lot of this could be really positively impacted if we had open conversations with young people about these issues at school.

Tanya Seghatchian: Lucy, in terms of commissioning and the kind of theatre shows that could make those kind of conversations palpable in a dramatic sense, how do you see things changing?

Lucy Kerbel: I don't know, I assume there must be work out there like that. I can't give you a whole raft of examples of it. It would certainly seem like theatre would be a good tool to address some of that, but something of that magnitude has to be attacked from so many different angles, theatre just being one.

Sonia Friedman: I don't know if anyone saw Linda at the Royal Court last year. I thought that was an extraordinary play about a middle-aged woman who was trying to balance her life and be a businesswoman, but also care about what she looks like, has pride in the way she dresses. The play, her life completely unravels, and it was a devastating portrayal of a woman of a certain age, my age as it happens, trying to run her life. I thought it was ... that is what theatre and playwriting can do, which is not just reflect society and reflect individuals, but also create debate, and maybe open eyes for other people about certain struggles we have. I know I do find it difficult talking about these things, because we're very privileged, I'm very, very privileged, and in the world where there is so much appalling stuff going on it feels rather self-important to sit here ... and what you do is much more important than what I do. I just put on shows, but you've got a really vital role for our generations coming up. My job can be just, hopefully, to do my job very well, and the best I can possibly do.

I've said before, publicly and privately, I do sometimes feel that I have to be just a little bit better than my male counterparts to be heard, and to be respected. I feel I've maybe got to the point now where it is a level playing field for me, so I'm grateful for that, and now it's just about how I use it.

Tanya Seghatchian: I think it's an interesting conversation, and maybe it's the question that we should all round up with, is I think it's about being able to make choices. To be the person who can make a choice, which is a significant choice within the context of wherever you find yourself. So it may be in the shape of the actor, the interpretation, in Mary Stuart, what's amazing is you see these two women who both could have had, and have had power, being forced to exercise the power that they have, whether it's the official power, their sexual power, the power of the victim, the power of the empowered, and it's all about choice in the end. So we need to put ourselves and other women into positions where they can make choices. I don't know whether you would agree, and perhaps each of you should make a final statement as we round up in which you articulate what you think power is.

Laura Bates: Oh gosh. Yes, I think that is true and really important, and I think maybe one of the interesting things within the context of the theatre in particular, and particularly thinking about that last question, is that that choice is often quite broad, and I think there is a danger perhaps in the world of the theatre that there are a lot of very convenient excuses around for people making very easy choices when it comes to representation. There are a lot of convenient excuses in the world of theatre and literature not to have equal representation, and to say, "Oh well, you know, it's just the canon. It is very white male dominated and those are the parts available and we have to cast it in this way," or "Well yes, we will put on this particular play in a small space to showcase the work of BAME writers or female writers, but obviously we've got to do these six restoration dramas and we have to cast white men in them, our hands are tied."

I think what's interesting is the excuses people make as well for the choices that they're making, and I think perhaps one of the best rebuttals to that that we've seen recently has been the Donmar Season with Julius Caesar and The Tempest, and Harriet Walter leading that all female cast, but also that very diverse cast. I think it's such a brilliant rebuttal of the idea 'we couldn't possibly' when they've created these incredible works of art that clearly prove how shoddy those excuses are essentially. So I think perhaps it is about choice, and it's about getting as many people as possible into positions to make choices, but also about scrutinising the choices being made by people in power as well, and holding them to account for those choices.

Dawn Foster: I was thinking the other day about this, I went to see The Children at the Royal Court, and me and my friends came out and we were just really excited that we'd seen a play that had two older female characters with a man as a sub-character, and how rare that was. We were talking about it afterwards, and it just made me think yes, it's extraordinarily rare; it's good that it happened, but also we shouldn't overlook the fact that it is still rare and that's a problem. When I think about women in power a lot and talk about it, I'm often told by men, “ah, but the Prime Minister is a woman”. The same with Thatcher in the '80's, its yes, you might have a woman at the very top, but essentially throughout the rest of Parliament and all the way down to local democracy, women are still massively under-represented.

I think power is partly as Laura said, about women having choices, but also control over their own lives. Women in Northern Ireland still can't get abortions without coming over here, women are still subject to austerity and poverty far more than men are. There was some statistics recently that said the pay gap had shrunk for women in their 20's, but also you get to your 30's, start having children, because you need children to function in society, and that's when the pay gap hits. It's a bit of a ... you get women in at the top or have the occasional play with more women than men in, but you need to look at everything from the top to the bottom and look at race and class and economic background as well.

Lucy Kerbel: I spend a lot of my time thinking about how the industry as a whole moves forward in regards to equality and diversity, and I think there is something interesting about power in that a lot of people have it and don't realise they have it, or perceive someone above them, that they have the power and they're the person that can sort this out. I am always very interested to have conversations with people and say, but what's the power you have? Yes, there'll be some things that are out of your hands, yes, there might be some things you have influence over, but not power, but then what do you have power over? Even if that is you're a drama teacher and you do have power over what your young people experience in your after school drama club. You may not have power over what they have to study in terms of what's prescribed and what the nature of those plays are, but you do have power in other respects, and how can you use those what might feel like in their own way quite small chunks or power, how cumulatively can a lot of people use that power to shift the dynamic right across theatre, so I think that's what I'm interested in at the moment.

Sonia Friedman: How you can affect change. How you can, without thinking you're powerful, I think it's very dangerous to think you are powerful, but know that your influence can affect change, can move your particular area of the industry on, and also go out much wider. I mean, look at someone like Meryl Streep, who uses her power in the most positive way, or Jennifer Lawrence even, who's saying I am not going to do this film unless I get paid the same. That is using power in exactly the right way, still doing their job brilliantly, still being a woman, still being proud of looking gorgeous. I don't think there's anything wrong with the two balanced out, feeling proud to be who you are, but knowing that what you say, where you say it, what you do, can influence others. Certainly in my own workplace, which is predominantly women, being aware of the fact that they are looking to me as to how to run a company and how you can do it both with strength, and good business acumen, but also with compassion. You don't have to be a bitch.

Tanya Seghatchian: Well, on that note, thank you all for sharing your insights.

 

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