Women playwrights at Hedda House

London theatre news: Friday 15 May 2020

Playwriting - Women in theatre

Alexa from Hedda House explains why she set-up a website for everyone to find brilliant, noteworthy, inspiring or just plain kick ass women playwrights.
Hedda House logo image

Image courtesy Hedda House

We asked Alexa from Hedda House what prompted her to set-up her website about female playwrights.

Here's her reply ...

"It was a celebration I had been looking forward to.

It was the winter of 2013 and the 50th Anniversary of London's National Theatre.

Broadcast on TV so I could be there, even though I wasn't.

And it was great but ....

As the night went on, something started to feel 'off'.

Play after play appeared on stage, with its accompanying caption stating the playwright.

And I kept waiting for the next one, eagerly anticipating which stunning female playwright would stand alongside these men.

Caryl Churchill? Timberlake Wertenbaker? Shelagh Delaney?

And I kept being disappointed.

Play after play was written by a man.

A parade of excellent playwrights, representing the, at the time, slightly less than 50% of our population.

The rest of the population was represented by one woman, Alecky Blythe, with her verbatim piece.

Meanwhile, Alan Bennet featured three times!

Did women not exist?

That was when I set out on a quest to find out if there really weren't any towering female playwrights worthy of inclusion.

And what I found was disturbing.

On average 17% of plays produced were written by women.

The excuse was that there weren't as many submissions by female writers.

But, as one theatre found out, when names were removed from script submissions and the entries were judged blind, that number rose to 40%!

When Dublin's Abbey theatre commemorated the centenary of the Easter Uprising in 2016, it's seasons of plays was entirely written by men.

The excuse was that the scripts by women weren't ready for performance yet.

Which translates as 'not good enough'.

And that's clearly false.

If it were the case then every play we've ever seen by a man is perfectly performance ready and none of us have ever seen a bad one.

Think about it: you've seen poor plays by men.

Plays in needs of structural changes, stronger plots, more compelling characters.

And each one of those was deemed performance ready.

Are women being held to a higher standard before being judged as equal?

And it went on like this.

For months.

New statistics each as grim as the last.

New promises of gender equality each as hollow sounding as the last.

And each time there was someone, somewhere bleating that there weren't any women playwrights, or they didn't write good enough plays.

But as I kept searching, I kept finding one amazing, inspiring or just plain kick ass female playwright after another.

What the hell where they talking about?

Did nobody know?

The choice was dazzling.

Enter Hedda House.

I'd had enough.

I decided there needed to be a place for people to find brilliant or noteworthy (and not all were brilliant) women playwrights.

I began writing bite-sized biographies and sharing them online, hoping to draw attention to them and their work.

They coalesced into HeddaHouse.com in 2018 where I hope those who find themselves embroiled in yet another circuitous 'there aren't any decent female playwrights' fiasco will be able to direct their opponent to for a definitive answer:

Yes. There are many.

But my research didn't just show me great women of the past.

It revealed a pattern that taught me a more prescient lesson.

I learnt that every time a woman, or group of women, have made phenomenal strides in gender parity with men, whatever the century, when they die their achievements disappear and they get forgotten.

While the men's reputation is carried on by successive generations, each one standing on the shoulders of giants; women have to start from scratch.

It happens in all walks of life so not it's not just the arts where our contribution is overlooked.

The world has treated our contribution as disposable, no matter how invaluable it has been.

Hedda House is one small step to redressing that imbalance.

There, in black and white, are a number of women you need in your theatrical life.

How many do you know?"


Hedda House website

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