More Australian plays being staged, but female writers continue to miss out

La Boite Single Asian Female Michelle Law - photo by Tammy LawA major survey of Australia’s 10 largest theatre companies, The National Voice has concluded that while more original Australian plays are being produced than three years ago, there is still a shortfall when it comes to balance between male and female Australian playwrights.

The National Voice is The Australian Writers’ Guild’s annual survey of programming trends, which looks specifically at the number of Australian works being produced and the gender split of their authors.

The research, which focuses on the 10 theatre companies’ main stage programs, found that of the 95 plays to be staged across Australia in 2017, 52 (55%) are written by an Australian writer, up from 50% in 2016, but down from 63% in 2015. Of these 52 Australian works, 23 (44%) are written by an Australian female writer, which is slightly up on 2016, but similar to the 2015 figure.

Patricia Cornelius from the Australian Writers’ Guild said the survey results are encouraging, but that there is still clearly room for improvement.

“The 2017 seasons contain the highest number of original works by Australian writers we have seen over the past three years,’ Cornelius, who is herself a critically acclaimed playwright,” said Cornelius. “This is a welcome and major commitment from theatre companies to engaging with the original visions of Australian playwrights.”

“It is disappointing, however, that we are in effect at a standstill when it comes to achieving a gender balance in the authorship of main stage Australian plays, with male writers continuing to dominate. While seven out of ten of the major companies in the survey have at least half of their 2017 seasons written by women, when you look at the overall number of main stage plays being produced across Australia next year, it is clear gender parity is still elusive.”

“Gender parity should be an achievable goal for these major companies that more often than not profess a commitment to providing equal opportunity for women,” Cornelius added.

The National Voice 2017 surveys the programming of the Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre, State Theatre Company of South Australia, Black Swan State Theatre Company, Belvoir St Theatre, Malthouse Theatre, Ensemble Theatre, Griffin Theatre Company and La Boite Theatre Company. Individual Company findings included:

Griffin Theatre Company
– Four Australian works: three premieres and one revival – all by Australian playwrights. This is the third year in a row of all Australian programming
– 50/50 split of female to male writers

La Boite Theatre Company
– Six works programmed: five new Australian works (four writer-credited and one devised piece), one Australian revival – 83% commitment to Australian writers
– 50/50 gender parity across their writer-credited season

Black Swan State Theatre Company
– Eight productions: two of them new Australian works, two Australian revivals and one adaptation employing an Australian writer – 62.5% Australian writers
– 60% female writers of Australian programming

Sydney Theatre Company
– 15 works programmed: five new Australian plays and two Australian revivals, plus engaging with Australian playwrights towards two adaptations – 60% Australian works
– 83% of writer opportunities go to male Australian writers – the second lowest across the 10 2017 seasons surveyed

State Theatre Company of South Australia
– Seven works programmed for 2017: two new Australian works, with an additional two adaptations employing Australian writers – 57% Australian playwrights
– 75% female playwrights – the highest ratio of Australian female playwrights of the seasons surveyed in 2017

Queensland Theatre
– Nine works in its main stage program in 2017: two Australian plays, one Australian revival and two adaptations employing an Australian writer – 56% of works with an Australian playwright attached
– Half of its main stage season engages female playwrights

Belvoir St Theatre
– 13 works programmed: six new Australian works, and one adaptation of an extant work employing an Australian writer – 54% Australian writers
– 64% of programming employs female playwrights

Ensemble Theatre
Ten shows: four new Australian plays – 40% Australian writers
– 25% female playwrights.

Malthouse Theatre
– 12 plays: four new Australian writing, one devised work and one Australian revival – 58% Australian content with 50% being writer- credited
– Of the Australian works where there is a credited writer, three are male and one is female, bringing the percentage of female playwrights to 17%. However, the season includes a co–devised comedy piece by an Australian female creator and two international creators, bringing female-credited work to 19%

Melbourne Theatre Company
11 works programmed: three new Australian plays – 27% Australian playwrights, the lowest of all 10 surveyed companies, but a small rise from 2016
– 66% female writers

The Australian Writers’ Guild is the peak industry body representing writers for stage, screen, radio and interactive media and has protected and promoted writers’ creative and professional interests for more than 50 years. For more information and to read the full report, visit: for details.

Image: La Boite Theatre Company will present Michelle Law’s Single White Female in 2017 – photo by Tammy Law