An Actress's Thoughts

Touring the Irish Isle – #WakingTheFeminists

A couple of weeks ago, invited by Irish Equity and Equity Scotland & Northern Ireland, I presented my gender diversity tool NEROPA in front of representatives from theatres and the film industry in Dublin and Belfast.
Today I want to give a very brief account of my days on the green isle and introduce and thank the people who made this all possible. Also I am very happy that the two great ladies who gave the key note introductions at the events – Sarah Durcan in Dublin (“We need to Talk about Power and Representation”) and Maggie Cronin in Belfast (“We have Come a Long Way and still have a Long Way to Go”) – have kindly given me permission to reproduce the bigger parts of their speeches.

Bringing NEROPA to Dublin und Belfast

As some of you may know, since shortly after I started my analysis and blogging, I have been in regular contact with Jean Rogers of Equity UK (read my interview with her Well done, sister Equity! from 2013) and half a year after I published my method NEROPA Neutral Roles Parity in January 2016, I met Jean and other female film activists at Equity in London (read SchspIN in London). And eventually, this January, initiated by Jean Rogers and the Women’s Committee, Equity UK and the BFI held a NEROPA symposium in London.
Not too long after this I was contacted by Lorne Boswell from the Equity Glasgow office who suggested an Irish / Northern Irish double act with NEROPA and introduced me to Karan O’Loughlin of the republic’s union, and voilà! another few months later this is what happened – presentations in front of a very interested audience with lively discussions and conversations:

  • A NEROPA seminar in Dublin (Oct. 11) with representatives of the Screen Producers Ireland Organisation, the Irish Theatre Institute, The national theatre The Abbey, Drama Schools, casting directors, actors, HR consultants and some trade union professionals,
  • A NEROPA seminar in Belfast (Oct. 12) with representatives of the BBC Writersroom, Northern Ireland Screen, Spotlight, Mac Theatre, Ulster University, Casting directors and Equity members / actors,
  • A NEROPA workshop at Queen’s Graduate School, Queen’s University Belfast (Oct. 12).

Here’s the official flyer (wonderfully designed by Sonia of Irish Equity’s Communications department):

On both sides of the boarder, a number of people were involved in preparing and organizing the events and my stay. They were all incredibly helpful, funny and never tired of showing me around the towns and help me fill gaps regarding my knowledge of the history of the Irish isle, politics, their unions, languages, cuisine and more. Yes, we also spoke about this sorry subject (the B-Word) but that is a topic for another day. So…

Big Thanks to Dublin!

Padraig Murray is a professional actor and the President of the Irish Equity, the union for performers in the Republic of Ireland. Padraig is also actively involved with the International Federation of Actors at European and Global level.
Karan O Loughlin is employed by Irelands largest trade union SIPTU and is the head of the Service Division within the union. Irish Equity lies within the Arts & Culture Sector of the Services Division and Karan runs the Division but also does the Equity work directly.
Sarah Durcan is the Global Operations Manager of Science Gallery International, the non-profit organisation catalysing the growth of the world’s first university-linked network dedicated to public engagement with science and art. She has a background in theatre producing and financial management and worked as the Executive Producer for award-winning Irish theatre company, The Corn Exchange, as Acting General Manager of Dublin Theatre Festival and as General Manager for the Dublin Fringe Festival, as well as serving on the boards of Theatre Forum and GAZE Film Festival. Sarah holds a BA in Communications from Dublin City University and an MA in Cultural Policy and Arts Management from University College Dublin. Since November 2015 she has been involved in organising the #WakingTheFeminists campaign to achieve gender equality in Irish theatre by 2021. In July 2016, Sarah was appointed to the Board of the Irish national theatre, The Abbey Theatre.
Aileen Graham, Admin Assistant Arts, Culture, Print and Media Sector SIPTU.
Sonia Irish Equity’s Communications Department.

Big Thanks to Belfast!

Stephen Beggs is an actor, writer, director and workshop facilitator based in Belfast. He is currently Chair of Equity’s Northern Ireland National Committee
Lorne Boswell is a full time official for Equity based in their Glasgow office who covers Scotland and Northern Ireland. He helped Jean Rogers, when she was Equity Vice President, organise a conference in Edinburgh with FIA Federation Internationale des Acteurs about gender representation across Europe. He has worked for Equity for nearly 30 years. Before that he was a stage manager.
Marlene Curran has worked for Equity for over 8 years, her role is Recruitment & Retention Organiser, this is a varied role but mainly she visits TV, Film and Theatre productions throughout Scotland & Northern Ireland. Previous to working for Equity Marlene worked for the Civil Service for 13 years in various roles but mainly assisting long term unemployed back into employment. During her Civil Service career Marlene was a member of the PCS Union and was Trade Union Rep. Marlene lives in Glasgow with her 10 year old Daughter and dog Barney.
Adam Adnyana is a National Organiser for the Equity trade union in Northern Ireland and Scotland. He has previously worked for trade unions representing members in public services and the finance industry. He has a Bachelors degree in Political Science and Asian Studies from the Australian National University and recently completed a Masters Degree in Employee Relations at Newcastle University in England. Adam is a keen tennis player and lives in Glasgow with his wife and 4 children.
Maggie Cronin is an actress, writer and director. She is on the committee of Waking The Feminists Northern Ireland and a member of their Research sub committee. She has just commenced a PhD researching women theatre practitioners in Northern Ireland. Formerly an Equity Councillor, Maggie is now a member of the Equity NI Mental Health Resources Committee, along with Stephen Beggs.

The Key Notes:

In Dublin after an introduction by Padraig Murray, Sarah Durcan – who will be running for parliament next – gave the Irish background for the day (shortened version below):

Sarah Durcan: We need to Talk about Power and Representation

It’s a tough time for women – but when isn’t it?

It’s just that we’re more keenly aware – the context has been shifted over the past few years – the conversation is no longer silent about massive gender inequality, from representation, to the gender pay gap, the power deficit, to the dark recesses of sexual harassment and gender based violence. Gender is the primary way we sort the world – it’s the first category we automatically sort people into – before race, age etc.

All of you here in this room today have power and responsibility. WE shape our culture, and how we shape it has consequences. Women are central to the great events and issues of our time. Our place is not at the cultural periphery, because inequality of voice and representation compounds the inequality of our power. Listening to predominantly male narratives, is not only delusional, it’s dangerous. In failing half our talent, we fail our art, we fail our culture, and we fail our society.
Women’s cultural space matters as much as our political space, our economic space, and our physical space. Solving the complex problem of gender inequality requires a sustained sector-wide collaborative commitment. The choice is simple: We can choose to continue to uphold inequality because that’s the way it always has been, or promote equality, because it’s the only way it should be.

Three years ago, #WakingTheFeminists exploded a conversation into the public domain about equality. Equality for women in Irish culture – on stage, on screen, on air. Equal opportunity, equal advancement, equal pay, safe workplaces. #WakingTheFeminists commissioned groundbreaking quantitative research into the ten of the top funded theatre organisations for 10 years. This crucial baseline data gives a picture of the current situation AND a yardstick for measuring change. Following the money is one of the most enlightening ways of understanding gender inequality at work. In theatre, as the money went up, the number of women tends to go down. That’s now changing.
The causes of gender inequality are structural and systemic and deeply historic, but the effect on women is universal – less space for women, limited stories about women, curtailed opportunities, and audiences witnessing a skewed vision of our world. #WakingTheFeminists’ year long public campaign raised awareness around gender inequality and encouraged publicly funded theatre organisations to embed systemic change in their governance, policy and activities.
There are many challenges facing you in your work. And when we’re rushed, under pressure, and short on resources, we’re more likely to make stereotypical or biased decisions. That’s why we need tools and systems to help us work against our unconscious biases.
(…) Don’t just focus on raising awareness – take action, and offer specific tools that help people make better decisions e.g. combining unconscious bias training with sponsorship programmes, and concrete actions and targets.

About NEROPA as a tool – looking forward to hear one simple tool that can be easily implemented. It won’t solve everything, but simple, structural changes can radically alter our behaviour and outcomes over time.
By encouraging key organisations to work together, the positive impact on our community can be further reaching, which is why it is so great that we are all here today to talk to each other about our aspirations, challenges and solutions. Action and change only work when individuals throughout our organisations are educated, empowered, and encouraged – everyone can then be part of the solution.

We need to deepen the conversation about Representation

It’s as much about the creative content and the meaning of the stories we tell. In the few instances where women are portrayed as seeking power, they are often ultimately punished for doing so. Are we staging / screening the truth of women’s existence to expose it to the light, or are we denying access to alternative narratives that would help women express their strength and power in a positive way? I think both are simultaneously true.
To me, storytelling, whatever its format, is one of the most powerful ways we shape our world. The stories we tell ourselves, our cultural narratives, define who we are, and who we are not; what we talk about; and what we don’t talk about; what and who we include and what and who we exclude. It’s time to reshape our stories, to repurpose their power.
I wonder about the cost for those women who perform those submissive supportive roles, and are cast to perform them again and again over the lifetime of their careers – what does this do to them? What does it do to us as audiences watching?
What does it do to us as audiences when we witness artwork about past or present traumas? Are we at some level, traumatised or re-traumatised by that experience, in our bodies, or does art help us reframe and transform the traumas of the past? Theatre, as much as it has the power to positively transform our culture and be inclusive and healing, also has the power to replicate and perpetuate its inequalities.
The stakes are much higher than our cultural output. There is no democracy without meritocracy; there is no meritocracy without equality of opportunity; equality of opportunity cannot effectively exist when one group is marginalised and diminished.

Equal representation – equal voice – equal opportunity – equal pay – equal bodily autonomy – equal power.


In Belfast after an introduction by Stephen Beggs, Maggie Cronin – who organized the afternoon NEROPA workshop at Queen’s University – gave the Northern Irish background for the day (shortened version below):

Maggie Cronin: We have Come a Long Way and still have a Long Way to Go

The Republic of Ireland’s theatre community has been galvanised by the Waking The Feminists movement – which started when Lian Bell posted on social media in response to the overwhelmingly male domination of the “Waking the Nation” season at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, in commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

Her posting caused a huge response from female (and many supportive male) theatre makers and they quickly mobilised into an active and vocal group called Waking The Feminists. Media response and academic support meant that facts and figures were found quickly and a “head count” of the top ten publicly funded theatre companies over a period of ten years was swiftly produced. It made for sobering reading. Since then, policy changes and changes to the gender make up of theatre boards have shown how seriously this has been taken. The rapid progress was inspiring.

Our response in Northern Ireland has been slower. We are a small but active group of volunteers, mainly working on two fronts: gathering research information into where women are employed in the top five publicly funded theatres in Northern Ireland, and a “safe space” group in response to serious allegations of sexual misconduct within the industry.

Some progress has been made on both these issues, but much still needs to be done.

When I heard of Belinde’s presentation at The Southbank in London – hosted by Jean Rogers and Equity’s women’s committee, I thought it would be fantastic to be able to bring it to Ireland. I was delighted that both Equity Northern Ireland and our sister Union Irish Equity were able to make this happen and stand shoulder to shoulder and host this event in Dublin and in Belfast.
Thank you to Adam, Lorne, Marlene and Karan for making this possible.

Belinde isn’t just the inventor of NEROPA and researcher, she is also an actress, working across film, TV and Theatre. So she knows her subject from the inside as well as from the outside.

On the theme of “Shoulder to Shoulder” – a refrain from the suffragette song, “The March of the Women” by Ethel Smyth, I was at a march organised by Artichoke Theatre to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the partial enfranchisement of women in 1918.
I wonder what suffragettes such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Hanna Sheehy Skefffington, Lilian Metge and Dorothy Evans would make of our progress?

We have come a long way baby, but we still have a long way to go.

Coming up next:

I am very happy to say that I will be returning to the Irish Isle in a few months. Northern Ireland Screen (official website) are planning a NEROPA presentation for producers in Belfast in early 2019.



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