Project Ovation is a recently-launched forum aiming to champion women in the theatre industry. We spoke to co-founder Michelle Barnette about the project and what inspired its creation.
Tell us a bit about Project Ovation and how it came about.
Project Ovation is a direct response to the lack of platform and ongoing support available for women working across theatre. Victoria Sadler, arts writer and CEO of Project Ovation, releases an annual review of how the theatrical landscape looks for female playwrights across some of London’s leading venues. Over several years she came to realise there was a more sustained issue. She put a call out on Twitter to see if there was anyone who would be interested in starting a forum and thus began Project Ovation.
Who is Project Ovation?
The committee is comprised of writers, producers, designers, actors, techies and directors who believe that the only way to achieve equality in the arts is to fight for it. We want to create a space for women to just be. We are dedicated to curating events that are meaningful, based on hours of conversations with artists about what would be most helpful as well as our own experiences. Sometimes it's about networking, sometimes it's about upskilling, and sometimes it's just about being in those rooms with the people who make the decisions.
"Sometimes it's about networking, sometimes it's about upskilling, and sometimes it's just about being in those rooms with the people who make the decisions."
Why do you think theatre continues to be a challenging industry in which to be a woman?
Women, especially in this industry, have proven time and time again that they will put in the legwork. They self produce, they take their shows to the Fringe, they do writing nights and attend development sessions. They invite people to their shows. They do everything right. But somehow they still aren’t making it on to our main stages.
Really, I don’t know why theatre continues to be a challenging industry for women when we’ve seen time and time again how brilliant the women in this industry are, and how much they graft. Perhaps it’s because everyone keeps looking for “the next” Phoebe Waller-Bridge instead of simply just finding and championing unique female voices. How many men do you hear called “the next” Mike Bartlett, or Rob Icke, or Michael Grandage? There's no room for women to be “new” or at all risky. Female playwrights are consistently told that they aren't ready for the main spaces and are resigned to studios, if they get a foot in at all. Everyone talks about how brilliant women are but too often spaces and venues don’t reflect this in their programming.
"Everyone talks about how brilliant women are but too often spaces and venues don’t reflect this in their programming."
What is your advice to employers/venues/institutions in the arts in 2018?
Venues and institutions need to listen to and believe in women. Make your programs and support meaningful. It isn't good enough to claim to care in order to benefit from positive PR. You must find a way to show consistent, sustained support. Make these channels easily accessible and advertise them. The demand is there. We know you can't support every artist or every woman, but you can make your process thoughtful and transparent.
What would be your advice to young women starting out in the arts in 2018?
If you’re a woman who is just starting out a career in theatre, don't despair. This industry can be incredibly lonely and sometimes it feels like you’re forever knocking on closed doors. Surround yourself with people who are doing it with you, champion each other, be there when things go badly and celebrate them when they do well. Other women are not your competition. Your work is unique to you. No other person can create the work the way you would. Some people will connect with it and some people won't. That's okay.
"In ten years, I would love to find that we as an organisation are redundant. Because the industry has embraced diversity."
How do you think (or hope!) the arts will be different in 10 years time?
In ten years, I would love to find that we as an organisation are redundant. Because the industry has embraced diversity. Because women are being commissioned. Because points of access are clear and support is meaningful. Until then, we'll do the best we can to promote gender diversity in the arts and champion women who are finding their way.