Journalist and critic Jane Howard has been awarded the 2019 Walkley Arts Journalism Prize for her article How Australian theatre rebalanced its gender disparity, which was published by ABC Arts in April. The prize, awarded by the Walkley Foundation at its Mid-Year Awards Ceremony, recognises significant contributions in reporting, writing, news-breaking and analysis of arts issues.
Journalist and critic Jane Howard. Photo © Adam Hollingworth
Howard’s story, which has resonated widely throughout the arts community, examines the changes in gender balance in Australian theatre that have occurred in the 10 years since Neil Armfield’s final season as Artistic Director of Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre in 2009, in which only one of the seven mainstage productions included a woman writer or director.
“In that year, at the eight best-funded Australian theatre companies – members of the Major Performing Arts Group (MPAG) – just 24 per cent of plays were written by women, and 24 per cent were directed by women. A staggering 86 per cent of productions had at least one man as writer or director,” Howard wrote. “In 2019, women will make up 47 per cent of playwrights and 58 per cent of directors at MPAG theatre companies. And, for the first time ever, more of these productions will have at least one woman in a lead creative role (67 per cent) than at least one man (60 per cent).”
Howard charts the changes that occurred within the industry across those years, highlighting the work of the women who made those changes happen, and noting the work still to be done in terms of the representation of women and diverse artists in the theatre industry. “The changing face of the Australian theatre is perhaps best manifested in the most produced playwright in each of those years,” Howard wrote. “In 2010, it was Shakespeare; in 2019, it will be Nakkiah Lui.”
While Howard’s work focuses on theatre specifically, her story has ramifications and perhaps lessons for the broader arts industry, and particularly classical music and opera, as it struggles to come to terms with an entrenched gender disparity. Critic and librettist Alison Croggon, for instance, described the recent New Opera Workshop (Now 2019) in Brisbane as a galvanising moment “comparable to Neil Armfield’s 2009 Belvoir St season”, while Sally Blackwood examined the issues facing women in opera in her recent piece for Limelight in Shifting the Opera Gaze.
The other finalists in this year’s Arts Journalism prize were Drew Ambrose, Rhiona-Jade Armont and David Boyle’s Straight Outta Bangkok: Thailand’s Rebel Artists for Al Jazeera, and Michaela Boland, Greg Miskelly and Alison Branley’s At the Minister’s Discretion, for the ABC, investigating arts funding decisions made by the NSW Government.
This year’s Pascall Prize for Arts Criticism, which boasts previous winners such as Alison Croggon, Andrew Ford and Roger Covell, went to Jeff Sparrow for his A Place of Punishment: No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani in Sydney Review of Books, which was up against Rosemary Neill’s Shooting stars: exposing Hollywood’s hypocrisy over guns in The Weekend Australian and Fiona Wright’s piece To Be A Tulip: The Recovering by Leslie Jamison in Sydney Review of Books.