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 and spans borders.
“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.”
17Percent is an organisation to support and promote UK-based female playwrights.
And 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 run a Medway theatre group for writers and those who want to make theatre with those writers. (Our aim is to broaden this out to other areas.) This group produces showcases with guest writers and writers from the group - see our EVENTS pages for more info. We are currently looking to develop this group, so please get in touch if you are interested.
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 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. We have just launched our series of Guides to working in the theatre. If you would like to share your knowledge, please drop Sam a line.