The Current

'Women need to take up more space': Feminist theatre calls on industry to hire female directors

"If you can get more female directors directing on the main stages then the next time a leadership change happens then they can come from those ranks."
Artistic Director Kelly Thornton joined Toronto’s female-oriented Nightwood Theatre in 2001. She says the gender imbalance among Canada’s playwrights and artistic directors must be addressed. (Dahlia Katz)

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At the Golden Globes on Sunday night, the message to the entertainment industry was clear: Tell more women's stories and give women more power in the industry. 

It's a principle that Toronto's Nightwood Theatre is based on. For 38 years, Nightwood has been one of Canada's leading feminist theatres focusing on women's stories told by women. 

Women need to take up more space.- Kelly Thornton

What is a feminist theatre?

"It is the simple fact that we feel that we deserve equality in society, that we want to share the boardroom table instead of take notes for the board," says Kelly Thornton, Nightwood's artistic director.

"For me, there is an inherent political nature to making theatre because artists, in general, are agitators. We try and allow our audiences to see a different perspective of the world," she tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Thornton says their audience is mixed — representing both men and women but says an Equity in Theatre study suggests ticket buyers are primarily women.

"I think that was mentioned at the Golden Globes ... many women in the audience looking for themselves. And it's great this wave that we're on, starting with #MeToo, to really look at the fact that women need to take up more space."

Nightwood was founded in 1979 by four female playwrights. At the time, there were very minimal opportunities for women to get on to the main stage, says Thornton.

I think this is a significant moment for women and we have to keep pushing.- Kelly Thornton

But when Thornton took over as artistic director of Nightwood in 2001, although there was some improvement, there was no sense of equity reflected in the industry. She continues to push for this to change.

"We were hovering around 25 per cent," Thornton tells Tremonti, pointing to leadership, primarily white men artistic directors, as a prominent issue.

"I don't fault them in many ways, it's a blind spot for many people. An artistic director when they're programming is very much interested in stories that speak to them."

Hire more female directors

However, Thornton argues that equation can easily change.

"If you can get more female directors directing on the main stages, then the next time a leadership change happens, then they can come from those ranks."

Plaintiffs, from left, Diana Bentley, Hannah Miller, Kristin Booth and Patricia Fagan attend a press conference after filing lawsuits alleging sexual harassment by Soulpepper Theatre Company director Albert Schultz. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

With the recent lawsuit filed by four women against Soulpepper and its founder Albert Schultz, Thortnon says it's vital for "this ongoing silence-breaking to continue."

"The last thing we all want to hear is that the #MeToo came and went and everything went back to normal," she says.

"I think this is a significant moment for women and we have to keep pushing."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman.