The second University Women in the Arts event took place last week with Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre, one of the UK’s leading new writing theatres.
University Women in the Arts is a one off scheme, which I am Director of, and which is providing, over the course of the next year, access to the advice of 15 of the women leading the way in the arts in the UK.
The scheme is to address the difference between the number of women studying the arts in the UK and women working in the arts particularly in artistic and leadership roles (for example at the University of the Arts London, Europe’s largest arts university, over 70% of students are female whilst recent figures from the British Theatre Consortium, Tonic Theatre and University of the Arts London, amongst others, have shown the number of female professional playwrights is 30%, the number of female professional artists in galleries in London is 30% and figures are similar in other areas of the arts).
These were some of the top tips we wanted to share from Vicky’s session:
1. People have been one of the great blessings in Vicky’s career – meeting like-minded people who you can work with throughout your career can change everything. Find those people.
2. Women shouldn’t be afraid to follow their instinct. So many situations challenge our instinct and sense of self. And make us think do I know enough? Allow yourself to trust your instinct and not be scared of it or over question it. It’s the core of who we are.
3. Equally, you should try to be able to deal with challenges. There has to be a fundamental optimism that whatever the challenge is you will in some way be able to overcome it.
4. When you’re starting out, the challenge is “how am I going to get going?” You can deal with that challenge by not overthinking that and just making work, for example Vicky made her first work on the fringe and at Edinburgh which led to getting on to the Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme. Be open to everything and to seeing where it leads.
5. One of the most difficult challenges is, when things don’t work or you’re tired, you can become fearful or brittle and its important to try to overcome that and be as open-hearted and as connected as you possibly can.
6. If you want to work in the arts, do it. Don’t ask yourself questions about what your life’s going to be like, don’t ask about when to have children, none of those things need to come into it. Vicky said we’ve been overloaded with a huge set of questions and its sapping people’s ability to act fearlessly. Go for it and see what happens and be open to all possibilities. We can live complex lives all at one.
7. Be self sufficient. Don’t expect other people to make it happen for you. If you really care about it, make it happen. Don’t wait for the moment to come to you. Because if it doesn’t come to you you’ll become embittered and frustrated and not in control of your own life.
8. Don’t put off something. If you don’t think you’re ready now, you will never think you’re ready. Just do it and learn through it if it doesn’t work.
9. If you want to work in theatre, make sure you know why you want to work in theatre, what theatre is and what it means to you. Be clear about what kind of theatre it is that stimulates you and be sure and proud of that. Opinion is good.
10. It’s through women in leadership positions bringing up other women that we can change things. Being Artistic Director at the Royal Court Theatre, what’s happened automatically is that there are more plays on by women, and more roles for women, because that’s Vicky’s taste. It’s about women being heads of organisations because then things change naturally.
11. Don’t let things become a problem – the most important thing is getting on with it and finding a way to survive. What we need to be looking at is better situations in terms of childcare generally in terms of women. You just do what you can. At the Royal Court, Vicky and Lucy, the Executive Director, have decided their policy around childcare is every situation has to be bespoke.
12. Leadership – enjoy it. Don’t be scared of it. Don’t feel guilty about it. Think about how to be a better leader and take the responsibility seriously. Make sure you pass opportunities on as much as possible.
Oberon Books will be publishing a book to collect and expand on the events in 2017.
In the meantime, forthcoming sessions with other mentors include Anne Edyvean, Head of BBC Writersroom, and Amanda Foreman, historian, presenter of the recent BBC series The Ascent of Women and Chair of the Man Booker Prize. To hear about these events, sign up to the mailing list at www.universitywomeninthearts.com
Advice from session one with Kate Rowland, founder of BBC Writersroom and the former Creative Director of New Writing at the BBC is available here: http://huff.to/2a1fQJQ
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