After a tumultuous year in the theatre industry, one in which diversity, access and above all sexual harassment were publicly discussed like never before, the publication of The Stage’s Top 100 list provides a welcome opportunity to take stock on how the theatrical power structures might be changing. It ranks the most influential people in the sector, from creatives and performers to producers and venue executives, and provides a quick summary of the individual or company’s achievements. The top 5 places are proposed by 30 leading figures across the sector, and senior editorial staff and contributors supplement and refine the entirety of the list in a multi-stage process. The Stage stresses that it is an observational rather than celebratory exercise, and listings are not weighted for gender or diversity equality.
As such, it’s quite depressing, and yet predictable reading. Men outnumber women 90 to 41 (some entries are more than one person, encompassing the executive team of the theatre, for example). BAME representation lies one percentage point below the national population average, at 9%, but if you take into account the list’s bias towards London (57% of venue entries were based in the capital), you would need BAME representation to be between 20-30% in order to accurately reflect the population. The able-bodied are also woefully overrepresented, despite 4% of the workforce of Arts Council NPOs identifying as disabled.
So far, so tragic, but let’s examine these inequalities further. Despite taking the top place (either individually or jointly with a male colleague) every year since numerical ranking began in 2014, women make up less than one third of this year’s list. This is worse than last year’s publication, which was 39% female. According to the Arts Council England’s Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case report of 2016, 60% of the NPO workforce are made up of women, but this shrinks to 40% at leadership level – this phenomenon is clearly represented in The Stage’s Top 100.
Women, therefore, dominate the artistic workforce in more junior roles, but are more than two thirds less likely to become industry leaders than their male colleagues. What’s worse, according to LinkedIn data, the average gap between female representation in the general workforce vs leadership positions is 11% – this means that theatre is well behind the national average in female promotion. Female representation in the 2018 list is also artificially inflated to a certain degree, as many more were included in joint entries for venues / companies than in previous years, where they were ‘represented’ by a male figurehead for the company. For example, Kate Varah’s was newly included on The Old Vic’s entry at no. 36 (previously Matthew Warchus alone was named), Marilyn Eardley was included for Fiery Angel at no. 53, and Sian Alexandar for The Lyric Hammersmith at no. 67.
Similarly, BAME representation falls significantly at leadership level, from 16% of the general creative workforce to 8% of the executive. The Stage’s Top 100 2018, with 9% BAME inclusion, is therefore on a par with wider representation across NPOs. However, when examining the placement of BAME individuals on the list, a deeper white-bias becomes clear. In the 2018 list, there are only three BAME individuals in the top 60, and two of these were new entries (Kwame Kwei-Armah and Lin-Manuel Miranda). Two thirds of the BAME entries were in the last third of the list, suggesting a glass ceiling still limits promotion to the highest reaches of the industry. This is reflected in 2017 (0 in the top 20) and 2016 (first BAME entry at no. 38, second at no. 70). Interestingly, BAME women are well represented across the list’s history, at 50% or more of these entries.
Regional representation is poor, with more than half of venues based in London (down 3% from 60% in 2017), not even taking into account companies based in the city. Geographical division is even more pronounced at the top – London vs regional venues in the top ten were 3 to 0 in 2018, and 4 to 1 in 2017. Whilst one might expect the nation’s talent to be attracted to the capital, and the larger, historical venues it has traditionally boasted, the lack of significant improvement for regional representation in the list year-on-year suggests that the Arts Council’s prioritization of funding the regions is not drawing artistic leaders away from London. Happily, however, women are again more equally represented at regional venues, notably as Artistic Directors, e.g. Sarah Frankcom at no. 15 and Gemma Bodinetz, no. 16.
The last aspect of inequality I want to address is perhaps the most shocking – socio-economic background. Of the top 5 in 2018 (which has largely remained unchanged in the last 5 years), every person was privately educated. Bar Vicky Featherstone, everyone went to either Oxbridge or Central for further study. Descending down the list, grammar schools and state schools are slightly more represented, but given that 7% of the nation’s school children are privately educated (rising to 18% post-GCSEs), and less than 1% of the population at Oxbridge and Central, it is clear that where you went to school is still the biggest indicator of future success in the industry.
So, what have we learnt from breaking down the stats? Despite all the noise of 2017, nothing much changed in terms of equality of representation. This is, undoubtedly, because it takes time for the big players to be replaced, but we’re still seeing no noteworthy improvement year on year – minorities are still segregated to the bottom of the list. In its own analysis, The Stage has made much of the inclusion of power-structure disruptors on the list, such as Vicky Featherstone, who was placed at no. 1 largely because of her visionary response to the sexual abuse allegations that have shocked the industry on the past 6 months. Perhaps this will bring in a new tide of diversity. But whilst we are stuck in an unequal industry, let’s try to be pro-active in our choices and actions; support and promote colleagues at work, let your money talk and avoid buying tickets for all white/male productions in London. 2017 has been a hopeful year for changes in the industry, we need to follow through and put our discussions into practice.
*Data on the theatre workforce in this article has been taken from the Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case Arts Council England Report, 2015-16. LinkedIn data was taken from this source. Further socio-economic research was carried out by fellow Theatre Bubble editor Alexander Parsonage.