Patricia: To be quite frank, I think it’s part of a systematic inequity across the board. Like when women complain about not being on business boards, when women are paid less for the same job, when women are not promoted because they have a baby, or not promoted just because they have a vagina. This is something that is endemic in our society. But, there’s only kind of one chance every decade when you have a chance to speak out about it. This inequity has been going on for decades. There’s sort of this attitude of, we’ve ‘done’ women, women have had their one-woman shows and women were given a good chance, and just didn’t come up with the goods. So we’ve done you, just like we’ve done Indigenous theatre – we’ve ‘done’ that, so leave it only to Indigenous companies. What the hell. Why aren’t you doing Indigenous plays as well? So you get this sense that now we’re back on the agenda for some reason. I think it’s possibly linked to the figures of domestic violence and Rosie Batty’s vocal stance against it. So you say sure, in theatre we’re not being bashed and hurt, but we’re losing our income. We don’t have any profile. My generation of playwrights, the women have dropped out. Where are we? We can’t compete anymore. We cannot persevere with not having our plays staged in any way. I don’t know why I’m still in the game, but I’m still on the periphery – I’m considered the ‘edgy’ playwright. The reason that Patricia doesn’t have her name in the mainstream is because she’s too edgy. Well actually, this is bullshit. Mainstream actually quite likes edgy. You balance your program, you introduce edgy so there’s an attitude and growth for it – you might get young people coming to your mainstream theatres.
Emily: That would be great!
Patricia: It’s not thoughtful. But in the end it’s misogynist and deliberate. I’m over it now. I just have to keep working away at trying to get my independent theatre to back me.
Emily: It’s crazy though. It doesn’t make any sense – why would it be so intentional?
Patricia: Well it’s not outright, and if they read that they’ll say ‘Intentional! As if! If the plays are good enough we’ll have them on.’ But they don’t ask for our work. They don’t read them. The only response you’ll get is ‘it doesn’t fit in the program’. Why doesn’t it fit in the program? What does that mean? The reduction of theatre companies is the greatest problem, and what the Australian Writers Guild is trying to promote is that there is also a reduction in Australian plays. What the hell. Why do you not want to hear our voices? Both the female ones and the Australian ones.
Emily: I would think that Australians would respond strongly and be interested in Australian stories, their whole audience is Australian and half their audience is female – it’s very confusing.
Patricia: Yeah it is. And the irony is that actually they’d sell quite well. So there’s a huge contradiction. What’s that about that you don’t want to invest in your country’s cultural wealth? Why do you want to let all these playwrights and female directors, why do you want them to just have to resort to television work? Why not nurture your theatre.
Emily: In general, it’s disheartening when the arts should be something where generally you’re open to new ideas because you’re exposed to a broad scope of ideas, and it’s supposed to be about forward, progressive thinking. And yet even in this industry equality hasn’t been achieved. So what hope is there for all other industries?
Patricia: A couple of years ago when the shit hit the fan when the percentage was so low for Australian female playwrights, the reaction was extraordinary from some of the male directors. They were so defensive and they claimed ‘only the best will do. The art shines out.’ It’s as if there’s no discerning about gender, it’s only the ‘best’ plays that we choose. And so as a female playwright you go ‘Oh, I mustn’t be good enough.’ In the end you think this is nonsense, because a lot of the programming, is quite often, to young men. This notion of a wunderkind. That’s wonderful for those young men, that’s fine. But there’s no wunderkind equivalent for female, there are no young women that they’re promoting. So they’re doing the great thing of nurturing someone from the beginning – but that is not happening across the board. It’s such a slap in the face, I come to think, you know, I’ve written a lot and actually I’m quite good at my work. I’m going to take away the ‘quite’ – I’m good at my craft. And I have enough accolades, which is deceiving because someone might say, well you win prizes all the time, but I would rather have my work put on, I would rather have someone ask to have my work put on. I would rather not to have to scrape for the funding for my work. So it’s that funny thing where I spent a lot of my career thinking, I’ll just get so good–
Emily: -that nobody can say no!
Patricia: That’s right! And it just doesn’t work.
Emily: Cate Blanchett was Artistic Director of STC with Andrew Upton a few years ago, and some years prior to that Robyn Nevin was Artistic Director. So we’ve had female artistic directors in mainstream theatre, surely they have a lot of influence over programming. Do you think that made any impact?
Patricia: I think that’s the sad thing about it, is that just because you’re in a position of power, if you like, and you’re female, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to champion women. I think that they’re under immense stress to have a program that’s accepted. It’s disappointing – you think for goodness sake-
Emily: -Please give us some hope!
Patricia: Yes! But I think the answer is in quota. I don’t know why everyone gets so nervous about the word even, because if you can’t be mindful of the gender equity in the programming, if you constantly seem to be weighting it with the male playwrights and directors, then you need to have something in your company policy that makes you address this terrible imbalance until it’s natural.
Emily: Because it’s never going to happen until you enforce something.
Read Part 2 of the interview here.