The Women in Theatre Lab to support female playwrights in the UK

20th November 2023

The Women in Theatre Lab is an exciting campaign that was launched in the UK in late October with the aim of tackling the ‘under-representation’ of female playwrights.

The initiative was inspired by America’s Women’s Project (WP) Lab and Australia’s Women in Theatre programme, both of which have nurtured a generation of female playwrights and achieved encouraging results.

Funded by Arts Council England and run by new company, Her Story Productions, led by Jennifer Tuckett, former Research and Literary Director at Sphinx Theatre, and Polly Kemp, founder and Director of ERA 50:50, this scheme is certainly going to pack a punch!

It is partnered with Jermyn Street Theatre and The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, and already backed by a wealth of industry names, including April De Angelis, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Titilola Dawudu, and actors Joanna Scanlan and Doon Mackichan.

The campaign launched alongside the Women in Theatre survey Update, which revisits the research carried out by Jennifer Tuckett and a number of industry bodies and professionals in 2021.

The updated survey says: ‘post-pandemic, almost none of the support for women in theatre promised during the pandemic has materialised and that gender inequality is in danger of increasing in theatre if actions are not taken.

Some of the survey results show that 6% of respondents believed that there had been an increase in work for women since the last survey, and 84% would like to see better funding and support for women, particularly those with child care requirements.

All these elements and more have been addressed in The Women in Theatre Lab campaign purpose - to combat gender disparity in the theatre industry ‘via seed and full commissions, advice from leading female playwrights, a business toolkit, a craft toolkit and a showcase.

With three stages of support:

  1. A group for emerging and mid-career playwrights to develop ideas with seed commissions 

  2. A group for mid-career female playwrights 

  3. A group with the aim of funding full commissions or productions developed by the writers in the scheme; all playwrights at all stages of their career have the opportunity of showcasing their work

Now this is what we want. We want to hear stories for women by women. Stories that we can relate to, empathise with or be inspired by. Theatre in all its great forms by women in all our wonderful forms.

The playwrights involved will not only receive help and advice from leading female playwrights, but they’ll also receive funding to be used for childcare and access costs. A huge benefit for those who feel they can’t continue in the industry once they start a family. This opens so many doors for many women.

The inspirational women behind the scheme know all too well the barriers that we regularly face, and how we need to join together to amplify our voices and our work. 

We too have been doing our bit! In 2022, Polly Kemp and April De Angelis joined us at our Taking the Stage – Women in Theatre Festival at MK Gallery to discuss this very issue of lack of female representation. Polly commented "They’ll get some seed funding, they’ll get a couple of grand to develop an idea, but then some bloke will come along with an idea and [the theatre will] prefer that and they’ll lose funding, they’ll lose the will to live and they’ll go back to their day job."

Sadly, this happens all too often and we continue to be overlooked.

Just like these motivational women I am extremely passionate about providing a platform for women into theatre, whether it’s through writing or having their stories told.  We need to be on the stage and in this industry.  We shouldn’t have to, but sadly we do. In short we need to “TAKE THE STAGE”.

This is a great initiative to be part of. We are fully behind it.

We hope to produce another “Taking The Stage Festival” very shortly.  Of course it depends on funding.  Watch this space!