50 WOMEN IN THEATRE
INTRODUCED BY DR SUSAN CROFT
CONSULTANT CAROLE WODDIS, THEATRE CRITIC
COMPILED BY KATE MCGREGOR AND CHERYL ROBSON
Since 1660 when actresses first began performing on the English stage, women have forged bright careers in theatre, while men called the shots. Four hundred years of women playwrights, from Aphra Behn to Caryl Churchill, yet plays by women make up less than a quarter of staged productions in the UK, leading to a lack of central roles for women. At a time when many theatres have closed their doors and others are looking to re-open, will they choose to move with the times or fall back on the safety of a tired repertoire?
With an overview of influential women in post-war theatre and 25 exclusive interviews with leading women theatre-makers, this book inspires us to create a truly equal and inclusive theatre today.
Including interviews with: Nina Lee Aquino ◉ Sudha Buchar ◉ Moira Buffini ◉ Paule Constable ◉ Denise Gough ◉ Jill Greenhalgh ◉ Vicky Ireland ◉ Jude Kelly ◉ Bryony Lavery ◉ Rachel Maza ◉ Kumiko Mendl ◉ Katie Mitchell ◉ Marsha Norman ◉ Lynn Nottage ◉ Kate O’Donnell ◉ Winsome Pinnock ◉ Emma Rice ◉ Daryl Roth ◉ Saviana Stanescu ◉ Jenny Sealey ◉ Michelle Terry ◉ Kate Waters and many more…
Dr Susan Croft
Susan Croft is a writer, curator, dramaturg, arts/performance archive consultant and historian with special interests in women playwrights, black and Asian theatre in Britain, live art and new writing for performance as well as alternative theatre generally. Susan studied English and American and Commonwealth Arts at Exeter University where she was introduced to the alternative theatre movement by Peter Thompson’s programmes at St Luke’s College, featuring companies like Joint Stock, Lumiere and Son, Monstrous Regiment, Foco Novo, Les Oeufs Malades, Incubus and Avon Touring. She then went on a direct exchange scholarship to the US to study International Theatre Studies, where amongst others, she worked with Zbigniew Cynkutis of Grotowski’s Teatr Laboratorium. She went on to join the Omaha Magic Theatre, an experimental troupe set up by JoAnn Schmidman and Megan Terry, who had worked with Joseph Chaikin’s Open Theatre in New York and wanted to apply similar practices of creating theatre in a more ‘authentic’ community. It was a fascinating experience: as a company member Susan helped devise both site-specific and touring shows, edited the company’s newspaper and helped with admin — and performed on tours all over the Midwest to isolated rural communities, cities, Indian reservations and prisons. On her return to Britain, at the height of Thatcherite unemployment she worked with Bread and Puppet Theatre on their procession for the major anti-nuclear demonstration in late 1983 and then joined, The Witkacy Ensemble in Colchester, a profit-share company devoted to the work of Polish playwright Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. Oddly there were no profits…
Moving to London she trained with SHAPE in running drama workshops for people with special needs, served on the editorial collective of the short-lived magazine of alternative theatre The Plot, became an active member of the campaigning group Women in Entertainment and became involved in the Half Moon Theatre’s actors workshop, while reading scripts for a number of theatres. In 1985 she was invited to contribute her specialist knowledge of women playwrights as a member of the working committee of the GLC’s London Young Playwrights Festival and the following year set up New Playwrights Trust (later Writernet) in response to the demand of those attending for a support body. She also worked with numerous small-scale alternative companies, matching writers to companies and advising on working processes. At this time, she also jointly set up the Second Wave Young Women Playwrights’ Project at the Albany Empire in Deptford. Alongside work at NPT she worked on several performance projects including developmental work on new writing with the Soho Poly and dramaturgical work on The Magdalena Project’s Nominatae Filiae and also attended the major International Women Playwrights conference in Buffalo, New York.
In 1989 she left NPT to take up a post as Lecturer in Creative Arts (Performance) at Nottingham Trent University, teaching performance writing, performance studies and practical, and arts administration on this major interdisciplinary arts degree, while also programming the Powerhouse season of experimental theatre and organising several conferences. She also worked as dramaturg with the experimental theatre company Meeting Ground led by Tania Myers and Stephen Lowe, on projects with Polish director Zofia Kalinska. Her research at this time led to the publication of essays on black women playwrights in Britain and women’s experimental theatre (see below). She spent a year doing research towards the major project of a critical bibliography of published women playwrights in English up to 1914. She then went to Manchester Metropolitan University as Senior Research Fellow in Performance Arts in 1993, working on another interdisciplinary arts degree, where she led the departmental research initiative and commissioned Michael McMillan to produce the report Live Writing: Explorations in Training, with Arts Council funding and set up various initiatives on archiving and documenting performance.
In 1996 she went to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre on an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship to pursue her work on women playwrights. In late 1997 she joined the Theatre Museum as Curator of Contemporary Performance where she worked to improve the Museum’s archiving of the alternative theatre sector and helped develop the audio and video collections including the National Video Archive of Performance. She curated a series of major exhibitions including ‘Exploding Tradition’ on the designer Tania Moiseiwitsch, ‘Architects of Fantasy’, both a retrospective exhibition/installation by Forkbeard Fantasy and an exploration of large-scale puppetry and animations in British theatre and carnival, as well as ‘The Redgraves: a Family on the Public Stage’ and ‘Let Paul Robeson Sing!’ The last was part of a series of initiatives to highlight the Museum’s holdings on Black and Asian theatre which also included Black Theatre History Trails, displays on Ira Aldridge and the publication Black and Asian Performance at the Theatre Museum: a Users’ Guide. She also curated displays on Unity Theatre, community plays and censorship among others.
Since 2005 she has been freelance, writing and editing various books and working on a range of projects including women’s suffrage related work including a centenary celebration of the Actresses Franchise League, a related website and exhibition: How the Vote Was Won and a new edition of suffrage plays Votes for Women and other plays (Aurora Metro Books.)
She set up the initial Unfinished Histories projects with Jessica Higgs in 2006, following an event of the same name at the Theatre Museum. From 2008 to 2018 she was attached to Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance as Clive Barker Visiting Research Fellow, focused on developing their archives, researching and creating access initiatives around them. She lives in London with her husband and two children.