Central Hosts the Advance Symposium | The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Central Hosts the Advance Symposium

Central and Tonic Theatre Host the Advance Symposium

Monday, 3 October 2016

England's leading performing arts organisations have gathered at Central for the Advance Symposium and to commit to greater gender equality.

On 22 September, 2016 Central was pleased to host industry representatives at the Advance Symposium.  Advance, a six-month process designed and led by Tonic Theatre in partnership with Central, aims to address gender inequalities in the fields of opera, dance and theatre.

Leading performing arts organisations from across England took part in Advance, including The National Theatre, Royal Opera House (encompassing The Royal Ballet, The Royal Opera and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House), Sadler’s Wells, Northern Ballet, Northern Stage, New Wolsey Theatre, Mahogany Opera Group, Cast, and Clean Break.  These organisations came together at the Advance Symposium to share work done during the programme and to discuss where it will lead them. Speakers included The Royal Ballet’s Artistic Director Kevin O’Hare, Associate Director of Opera for The Royal Opera John Fulljames, and National Theatre Executive Director Lisa Burger.

The inaugural Advance programme was run with theatres in 2014. Royal Shakespeare Company Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman, described it at the time as “one of the most empowering and significant exercises in looking at equality that I have experienced”. Following the 2014 programme the participating theatres made a range of commitments including Sheffield Theatres’ pledge to implement a 50:50 casting policy and Headlong to commission equal numbers of male and female playwrights.

Tonic’s Director Lucy Kerbel said that Advance takes a root and branch approach, going to the source of systemic imbalances in the performing arts:

“There has been much talk within the performing arts about gender inequalities. Advance exists to turn that talking into action. By supporting these organisations to look on a granular level at how they operate, as well as encouraging them to see the big picture of the change they – as leaders in their fields – have the capacity to initiate, Advance is giving the arts a new and effective way of addressing a very old problem. We have been impressed by the commitment with which the participating organisations have addressed the challenges set to them by Advance and feel incredibly positive about the plans they all now have in place for the future”.

A team from Central, including Professor Gilli Bush-Bailey, Dr Kat Low and Research Assistant Dr Lisa Woynarski, partnered with Tonic on the process. Professor of Women’s Performance History Gilli Bush-Bailey, who led the team, said:

Our partnership with Tonic engages a dynamic research process that continues to pose questions and stimulate enquiry to ensure that gender equality remains a live issue for future generations working across creative industries.” 

In the first Advance programme the focus was purely on creative teams, and in particular actors, directors, playwrights, and designers. The second Advance programme has continued to examine the situation for women in freelance creative roles. The Royal Opera House used Advance to focus on how it works with women conductors, with Sir. Antonio Pappano, Music Director of The Royal Opera commenting:

“Opera needs to pull on the widest possible pool of artists if it is to find the very best future talent. I’d very much like to see more women conductors working at the Royal Opera House at all levels – not only coming up through our young artist programmes but also appearing regularly on all our podiums."

But the programme has also broadened into territory such as workplace culture and communication styles. National Theatre Director Rufus Norris said:

“Our work with Tonic’s Advance Programme went far deeper than simply setting straightforward targets to address gender inequality. We started by examining the core of our working structure - how we communicate internally, particularly in meetings -  thinking critically about how gender informs this and looking to improve our approach as a result. Advance has provided us with a springboard to develop a collective self-awareness, which is vital to our ambitions in diversity and inclusivity”

Across the participating organisations there is a commitment for this work to lead to a more balanced landscape in the performing arts and to connect this with broader work on diversity. Alistair Spalding CBE, Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Sadler's Wells comments:

“We had been aware for some time of an imbalance between the number of women and men transitioning from emerging to established choreographers. We want to see a different future and to make change happen you have to dig deep into the culture of an organisation. Working with Tonic as part of the cohort gave us the time and space needed to interrogate everything we do. We have really enjoyed the challenge of the programme.”

The second edition of Advance marks the first time that major dance, opera and theatre organisations have joined forces to address gender imbalances. David Nixon OBE, Artistic Director, Northern Ballet, comments:

“It was energising and often enlightening to be part of a cohort drawn from across the performing arts, made up of different thinking individuals who brought a range of experiences and entry points to the discussions.”

Our partnership with Tonic engages a dynamic research process that continues to pose questions and stimulate enquiry to ensure that gender equality remains a live issue for future generations working across creative industries.

Professor Gilli Bush-Bailey