My last blog post has been getting quite a strong response, including several comments at the end of the piece itself, which I’d strongly encourage people to read. There have also been some negative comments from people who misunderstood the post, or who dispute or dismiss the overall argument. I thought it could be helpful to draw together some of these responses in one place, and to back up some of the claims with some stats.
First, though, it seems necessary to state that the title “There are no Irish women playwrights” – when used by the people who organised the original Festival, and as purloined by me for my own blog – was ironic. The whole point is that there are a great many Irish women playwrights. In my own post I mentioned some of them, but it was never at any stage my intention to create a definitive list. In the responses to my blog, Paul Meade, Caohman Keane, Róise Goan, and Anne Clarke add many important names into the mix. But even then the list is only partial. I will try to address this in more detail below.
I also was delighted to hear on Twitter from Katy Hayes and Caroline Williams, both of whom organised the original festival. They were able to provide some very useful clarifications, and to answer some of the questions I’d asked in the blog post.
Here is Katy clarifying that the academic in the bookstore who was told “there are no Irish women playwrights” was Claudia Harris (a US-based academic whose book on Charabanc is one of the key publications in this area):
Caroline then came in with some further information:
Both Katy and Caroline also comment on the ongoing relevance of the idea –
Caroline also has scanned some of the original show programmes, and you can see these on her Twitter feed (click on the links in the embedded tweets).
I am going to try to find more information about the Festival during the weeks ahead, and will post that when I can.
I also wanted to explain some of the statistics I mentioned, and so am going to draw on some figures from the Playography in order to do so. These come with a proviso: I have done a very quick count on these figures, and have not given them the care that I would if I was publishing something in a formal article or book. I can stand over the accuracy of the overall patterns here, but would ask people not to quote the figures below without first verifying their precision for themselves.
First, here is a break-down of the number of original new plays produced by Irish writers between 2002 and 2012. I choose these years to capture what was happening at the height of the boom, while also having enough space in the post-2008 years to consider how the recession has affected Irish theatre. It is important to state that the Playography usually includes plays that are produced outside Ireland too, so that slightly skews some of the figures. Having said that, the overall patterns remain unchanged even when these plays are omitted. I have not included adaptations in the list below because I thought doing so could confuse matters.
TABLE: New Irish Plays 2002-2012
||Number of new plays produced
||New plays by men
||New plays by women
||Plays co-written by m/f authors
||Plays by women as % of total
I would draw the following conclusions from these figures.
1. Perhaps most surprisingly, the number of new plays produced in Ireland has remained more or less constant since 2002, averaging out at about 65 per year. When you drill down into the figures, however, it becomes evident that there is a shift in terms of plays produced by subsidised theatres and plays produced by self-funded writers and/or commercial productions. Nevertheless, the overall pattern remains constant.
2. It was suggested by a few people on Facebook that the development of new forms of theatre-making in Ireland, especially around Dublin, will have led to a change. However, the Playography does not always differentiate between scripted and unscripted work, or between devised and “conventional” (for want of a better word). The figures above include plays by Gina Moxley, Grace Dyas, Veronica Dyas, Stefanie Preissner and Amy Conroy, for example. Having said that, they do not always include work by Louise Lowe or Una McKevitt – and this, it’s important to say, shows how the model of what is (or is not) a “play” is shifting. Nevertheless the overall pattern seems largely unchanged by the rise of the “theatre-maker”.
3. From Celtic Tiger to Great Recession, nothing much has changed insofar as the proportion of new plays is concerned. It clusters at around a quarter to a third every year. That figure matches the averages in other English-speaking countries internationally.
Comparing 2002 and 2012
In order to provide a further illustration of these figures, I thought it could be useful to go into a bit of depth. So I am going to compare 2002 and 2012, just to explore how the differences manifest themselves over time.
In 2002, there were 65 new plays produced. 46 were by men, 16 by women, and three were co-written by male and female authors.
Of the 46 plays written by men, 14 were published. That’s 30% of all plays written by men
Of the 16 plays written by women, three were published. That’s 18% of all plays written by women.
So in 2002, there were three times as many plays by men as by women. But we also see that male authors are significantly more likely to have their plays produced than women authors are.
In 2012, there were 70 plays produced, and the figures are a bit better: again there are 46 plays written by men, but now 23 are by women, and 1 co-authored.
Yet again, however, only three of the plays by women authors were published, whereas 7 of the plays by men were published. Those figures work out as being proportionately equal, however – about 13-14% of the total in each case. So some improvement there, though also evident is the fact that plays are being published far less frequently overall.
All of this suggests that things have not really changed all that much between 2002 and 2012: there are slight improvements, but they are not very significant in terms of the overall picture.
The “Big” Theatres
Another suggestion was that this problem is less likely to appear in the country’s main theatres. In fact, the reverse is true. Using the online archives of the major theatres, here are some interesting statistics.
Starting with the Abbey archive, from 2002 to 2011, I count 47 original new plays being given full productions (this does not include one-off readings). Of those, 12 were by women. That’s just about a quarter.
Moving to the Gate, between 2002 and 2012, the Gate lists 13 new productions – roughly one a year. These include adaptations such as The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton and The Birds by McPherson. The only female author listed here is Anne-Marie Casey for an adaptation of Little Women. The full list is here: http://gatetheatre.ie/section/GateTheatreProductions1984Present
The Lyric Archive here – http://www.lyrictheatre.co.uk/archive.aspx?category=2000-2009 – only goes as far as 2009. For those years, the theatre lists a total of 57 productions, including revivals and classics (I’m unable to determine how many of those are original new plays). Of those, 11 are by women authors. In fairness, however, the number of new plays by Marie Jones represents a sizeable proportion of new writing at the theatre.
On Rough Magic’s archive, I count nine productions of new works (including adaptations) between 2002 and 2012. And as I’ve written before, here the record is very positive – five of those nine are by women and four by men.
On Druid’s archive, I count one new play by a woman (Lucy Caldwell’s Leaves) since 2002.
For Fishamble, I count 25 new productions since 2002. Of those, 9 are by women (including the productions of Fishamble’s compendium plays such as She Was Wearing, Shorts, and the two seasons of Tiny Plays).
Again these figures are very rough, but what we see is that the major subsidised theatres tend to match the patterns overall – the proportion of plays by women is between a quarter and a third in most cases. I should add here that in no way am I criticising any of the above theatres for the existence of these patterns. Many if not all of them are aware of this as a problem and have taken specific and definite steps to address it.
I’d also refer readers to Paul Meade’s comment on the previous post, which shows that Guna Nua have done a huge amount in this area.
Who are we talking about?
It is important to state that women are prominent if not dominant in a variety of other fields in Irish theatre: direction very obviously but also design, production and so on. Likewise, there are many prominent “theatre-makers” who choose not to label themselves as playwrights. The argument I’m making here is therefore specifically about women playwrights.
One of the major pieces of feedback about the blog post that I wrote was that there were omissions from it. As I write above, it wasn’t my intention to create a list in the first place, but this feedback caused me to wonder exactly who is writing plays in Ireland at present. I’m drawing the list below from the Playography – the names of the women writers who have had plays produced in Ireland between 2002 and 2012. Not everyone here is Irish, and not everyone here would necessarily label herself a playwright – but the list has value in its own right, I’d suggest.
Here they are:
Ailís Ní Ríain
Bairbre de Barra
Bairbre Ní Chaoimh
Caitríona Ní Chonaola
Celia de Fréine
Ciara Ní Chuirc
Clare Dwyer Hogg
Deirdre Nic Con Uisce
Maria Ní Mhurchú
Mary Elizabeth Burke-Kennedy
Órna Ní Choileáin
Patricia Burke Brogan
Ríonach Ní Néill
Sarah Jane Shiels
Síle Ní Bhroin
Tara Maria Lovett
Ursula Rani Sarma
I haven’t done a proper count on this, but that seems to be slightly less than 150 individual writers. Between them they have written 173 plays during the period, albeit that many of those plays were co-written, sometimes with multiple authors (Fishamble’s Tiny Plays counts as one production, for example). What this means is that there are a very large number of women writers who have had one play produced in this country but, for whatever reason, have not had a second or third staged during this period.
Nevertheless, this is a huge number of writers. This is what I meant when I used the phrase “there are no Irish women playwrights”: in fact, the number is enormous.
About these figures – and what they might mean.
It’s important to reiterate that all of the figures above are based on very rough counting by me over the course of a couple of hours. There may be and in fact probably are errors in some of the figures. But what is indisputable, at least to me, is that there is clear evidence of a pattern here – and that this pattern has persisted from the Celtic Tiger into the recession – and that it’s been largely unaffected by changes in Irish theatre practice or by the reduction in funding for new plays.
I have drawn my own conclusions from that, and they are outlined in the last blog post. Others may choose to interpret the figures differently. I would return though to the point made by Joanne Harris, which I mentioned at the start of that blog post. The label “women’s writing” is limiting and in many ways pernicious: it is used mainly for marketing but its consequences go far beyond that. Nevertheless, there is evidence of a problem here, and we need to be able to name that problem as being related to gender, and if we decide that we want to address that problem, then we have to speak about it in terms of gender. My own view is that we need to do more to consider the structural issues that lead to this problem’s existence, bearing in mind as we do so that it exists in many other countries.
This blog celebrated its first birthday yesterday. It’s been an interesting experience and a worthwhile experiment, at least for me. The sole purpose of this blog has been to publicly “perform” the idea that Irish theatre matters – and that it matters enough to be written about and discussed. My hope has always been that these posts would not be seen as any attempt to provide an authoritative last word but that they would instead initiate some kind of conversation. And at many times that’s happened.
Having said that, since I began this blog, we’ve seen the demise of Irish Theatre Magazine, and there’s also evidence of a continuing reduction in the space afforded to theatre criticism in national newspapers – especially for productions outside of Dublin. I do not think that blogging can or should fill this space: I’m not writing theatre criticism here, either from an academic or journalistic point of view, and I don’t think many of the other blogs out there do that either. And the use of Twitter to respond to shows, while welcome, is not really filling the gap. We need to see more bloggers, more criticism, more public discussion, more analysis and ultimately more celebration of Irish theatre.
I’ve also become increasingly conscious of the fact that when I write about “Irish theatre” I am addressing multiple audiences who use that term slightly differently. We often speak of an Irish theatre community in Ireland, but of course there are multiple communities, which share concerns but have different preoccupations – as you move from Galway to Limerick to Cork to Belfast to Dublin, and not forgetting Kilkenny and Cavan, and many other places around the island. Added to that is the fact that the academic study of Irish theatre is a very internationalised field: it includes people who are staging plays by, say, Patricia Burke Brogan in Peru and Oregon – or people who are translating Martin McDonagh in Perm in Russia – or people who are writing about Yeats’s theatre in India – or people who are staging Teresa Deevy in New York – and so on. It’s been interesting to get feedback that suggests that there is a lot more going on with Irish theatre now than ever before.
Anyway, thanks to everyone who has read some of these posts over the last 12 months, and thanks also to those who have taken the time to comment.