Women in Theatre: the movers and shakers


By Lauren Ball

Earlier last year, Ambassador Theatre Group's joint founder and chief executive Rosemary Squire was named in BBC Radio 4's inaugural Woman's Hour power list. As she said, "it's great to see theatre recognised as a powerful and influential industry in the 21st century" - but we also feel the achievement is a sign of the great strides theatre is making to close the gender gap that still exists in so many business arenas.

As a company, we're proud that ATG is represented by women in senior and management roles across every department. As well as Rosemary Squire (who also has an OBE and has been jointly named the Most Powerful Person in British Theatre by the Stage 2010-2015 along with her business partner and husband Sir Howard Panter), ATG is also strongly associated with a number of very inspirational female role models. Here's a quick rundown of theatre's movers and shakers with two X chromosomes.

We want to hear your thoughts: tweet us the #inspirationalwomen you think should make it into the list.

(Pictured above from left to right: Tali Pelman, Producer; Nina Raine, Director & Playwright; Laura Wade, Playwright; Judy Craymer, Producer; Rosemary Squire, Theatre Impresario)

Female Playwrights

There's a whole host of young female playwrights making waves at the minute, not least Lucy Kirkwood, whose Almeida sell-out Chimerica received rave reviews for its West End transfer at ATG's Harold Pinter Theatre and scored a Best Play nomination in the 2013 Evening Standard Awards. Lucy Prebble's The Effect was also up for 2013 Best Play glory, following her 2009 nomination for ENRON. Laura Wade's Posh, having sold out the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court, was transferred to ATG's West End theatre the Duke of York's in May 2012, while Nina Raine won praise for Rabbit at ATG's Trafalgar Studios (2006), Tribes (2010), and also directed Jumpy (2011) by April De Angelis at the Royal Court and in ATG's Royal Court at the West End season. Former ATG employee Polly Stenham's debut That Face was staged at the Royal Court in 2007, for which she won the won the Evening Standard's 2007 Charles Wintour Award, the Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright and the 2007 Theatrical Management Association Award for Best New Play. The 2014 Most Promising Playwright award recipient was Beth Steel, for her acclaimed play Wonderland. Penelope Skinner, dubbed "our leading young feminist writer" by Nione Meakin, is the author of acclaimed plays Fucked (2008), Eigengrau (2010) and The Village Bike (2011), and Anya Reiss has to make it into this list too, as an award-winning British playwright who has been produced at the Royal Court, Old Vic, Bush Theatre and Southwark Playhouse.

It's most important that we don't forget past figures who've had a real impact on theatre and women around the world. Thank you, Twitter, for reminding us that Sarah Kane should very definitely be included in the list of writing movers and shakers. But, while we're celebrating past, present and future writers, here's another one for the list: Serena Haywood.

Female Producers

Sonia Friedman is a prolific producer of West End and Broadway theatre. Her own company, Sonia Friedman Productions, was formed in 2002 and is a subsidiary of the Ambassador Theatre Group, with productions including The Book of MormonChimerica and Mojo. Since January 2012, ATG has also been in a co-producing partnership with Tali Pelman, a former in-house producer, whose credits include The Misanthrope starring Keira Knightley and Damian Lewis. Producer Judy Craymer is best known for the worldwide smash-hit Mamma Mia!, while Sally Greene is the worldwide producer of Billy Elliott the Musical and creator of Old Vic Productions. Nica Burns, who co-owns the Nimax Theatre Group, has produced numerous shows such as Long Day's Journey Into Night at the Apollo Theatre and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Vaudeville.  

Up and coming female producers abound. We've had some great suggestions from the twitter floor, including Becky Barber, who has worked on West End productions of Birdsong, Sweeney ToddNoises Off and Jerusalem. Rachel Williams at Notting Hill's Gate Theatre, Rachel Tyson at the Bush Theatre, and independent producer Sarah Brocklehurst, who has been BAFTA nominated for an Outstanding Debut by a British Producer, are also responsible for making some truly wonderful theatrical things happen. Kate Pakenham also deserves a mention: founder of Old Vic New Voices she was Executive Producer at The Old Vic for many moons before joining Josie Rourke and Jo Danvers to head up the Donmar in a female trio powerhouse. Libby Brodie is Assistant Producer & General Manager for Adam Spiegel Productions and has worked on shows including The Mousetrap and Midnight Tango. And let's not forget producer and casting director Danielle Tarento, who co-founded the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Female Directors

Former Royal Court Associate Artistic Director Marianne Elliott won a Tony award for her direction of the Broadway production of War Horse in 2011, and at the 2013 Olivier Awards was crowned Best Director for the West End transfer of the National Theatre's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Phyllida Lloyd is an award-winning director of opera, the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! and subsequent 2008 feature film, and has recently directed the all-female version of Julius Caesar at the ATG-owned Donmar Warehouse. Lyndsey Turner was nominated for the 2013 Evening Standard Best Director Award for the 5-star Chimerica at ATG's Harold Pinter Theatre, having had previous ATG West End success with Posh, while Carrie Cracknell was a Best Director nominee in 2012 for her work on A Doll's House, which transferred to ATG's Duke of York's Theatre.

Twitter keeps feeding us absolute gems. Blanche McIntyre was named Most Promising Newcomer at the Critics' Circle awards for plays she directed at the Finborough. Hannah Price founded Theatre Uncut and is also a Resident Assistant Director at the Donmar (where Rourke started too) and Paulette Randall, former artistic director of the Talawa Theatre Company, was the associate director for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.

Female Critics

Although it's an oft-noted fact (by the National Theatre's Nicholas Hytner amongst others) that the world of theatre criticism is male-dominated, prominent female critics include Libby Purves, The Guardian's Lyn Gardner, The Observer's Susannah Clapp and The Times' Kate Bassett.

Female Artistic Directors

Jude Kelly has been the Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, Britain's largest cultural institution, since 2005, having previously founded the West Yorkshire Playhouse. In January 2012, Josie Rourke took over from Michael Grandage as Artistic Director of the ATG-owned Donmar Warehouse. Three months later, it was announced that Vicky Featherstone would be the new Artistic Director of the Royal Court, having been the founding Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the National Theatre of Scotland. Indhu Rubasingham joined the ranks in May 2012, taking over at Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre. Three appointments in five months - not too shabby.

Meanwhile, in the regions, Michelle Dickson (who used to be part of ATG's programming team) has run the Oxford Playhouse with great success. Her contemporary at university Erica Whyman ran Northern Stage in Newcastle for many years before taking on the position of Deputy Artistic Director at the RSC in 2012. Brigid Larmour is Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Watford Palace Theatre.