17Percent is an organisation set up to primarily support and promote UK-based female playwrights, though we now also promote and support women working in all fields of the arts – particularly those in drama.
17Percent was set up by playwright Sam Hall in 2009. While taking writing courses, including an MA in Creative Writing, she noticed a significant imbalance in the number of women to men. In a class of 20, for example, there would be only about 4 men. But the majority of the plays studied on these courses were written by men; the majority of plays performed at UK theatres are written by men. So Sam began to ask herself ‘why weren’t all those women who set out studying playwriting going on to have work performed and published?’ The answer is incredibly complex.
“Men have been accepted as creators of art for much longer,” she says, “so that any woman who now succeeds within this structure is credited with being a ‘woman in a man’s world’. There is also a much bigger body of work by men to choose from, as historically most writers have been male. Other reasons may be that writing doesn’t pay very well, and unless you have a rich benefactor (or supportive partner) you can’t afford to develop your writing.” A number of other factors may also contribute, such as women taking time off for family or simply not being commissioned as often. They might not also be getting commissioned since their work might be viewed as desirable primarily for a “women’s” audience. Perhaps women don’t send their work out ‘on spec’ as easily, only about 1 in 5 scripts received at The National Theatre is by a woman.
Despite such statistics, Sam is ultimately undeterred. “Institutions can be modified,” she says. “Just because we are looking at a long history of male dominance in art doesn’t mean we should just accept the status quo. We should do everything we can to try and even up the score. Equality is what 17Percent is about.”
She Writes – our script-in-hand showcase event – has shown the work of over 50 writers. We launched the showcase to London in our Mini-Festival in 201o, and from 2011-2012 held our regular She Writes event in Whitstable every two months. We also ran a monthly She Writes night at Roundabout Nights in Chatham from June-December 2014.
Many of the writers featured at She Writes have gained confidence and taken their work forward and we like to keep in touch and promote their work.
We also produced 4* reviewed full-length theatre shows; She Writes: What’s through the door at the Canal Cafe in London, and at The Rochester Literature Festival in 2013, and The Spirit of my Dream for the Rochester Literature Festival in 2014. We also took shows to Lounge on the Farm, and we part of the Whitstable Bienale festival in 2012.
Our founder, Sam, has spoken on television and on panels in this country and internationally about female playwrights.
17Percent has added its voice to the growing discussion about the inequality of writing in the theatre, and will continue to do so.
Why 17%? It’s a significant figure; it was quoted at Sphinx theatre’s 2009 ‘Vamps, Vixens and feminists’ conference as the percentage of UK women playwrights being produced and it’s also the pay gap between men and women. When only 17% of UK produced plays are written by women, when women make up 52% of the UK’s population, and 65% of the theatre audience, something is badly skewed. (Figures from 2010)
And why is this important? Drama is important as it gives us a plan for living. If all stories are about men and told by men, we keep seeing the same story; we get used to a dominant male view. Our showcases give women a voice and the opportunity to share stories from a female perspective, and show positive role models onstage to both women and men.
We will support and promote female playwrights primarily through showcases with opportunities for feedback; mentoring opportunities; feedback and dramaturgy; championing women’s achievements in the theatre; and, providing positive female role models and inspirations.
Our events will not for women only. We believe that to achieve equality, women and men should work together: in a conversation not a competition.
The key aim of 17Percent is to widen the debate about why women aren’t getting their work produced and help more women get more of their work performed in the UK.
We produce She Writes showcases and various one-off performances.
We offer a very occasional email subscription newsletter with news, reviews, interviews and writing opportunities – click here if you want to subscribe. (The newsletter comes out very infrequently at the moment, due to work commitments.) You can find back issues in various formats in the DOWNLOADS section.
We interview, feature and share information about work by women on this website.
Founder Sam writes articles and gives talks on women in theatre.
We are also building an online video resource on YouTube full of interviews with ‘interesting and inspiring’ playwrights and women who work in the theatre, or women have some good advice to share; so far interviewees who have generously shared their advice are: Van Badham (then, Finborough Theatre); Gill Kirk and Samantha Ellis (playwrights); Alison Mead (Three4All); Gemma Lloyd (Act Up); Nancy Hirst (Icon Theatre); and expert in women in business, Dr Suzanne Doyle-Morris. If you would like to share your knowledge, please drop Sam a line.