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All female RSC season reopens the door to artistic advancement

Last year the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) announced that all of the plays produced during its 2018 summer season would be directed by women. It was a notable benchmark, not least because the decision was apparently made through merit alone, rather than as a deliberate attempt to champion equality. With Oprah Winfrey’s strident Golden Globes speech dominating the headlines at the beginning of this year, a new day for equal representation within the industry – and indeed the wider world it characterises – is drawing closer in 2018.

At Winterson’s we take the issue of equality within the arts extremely seriously. Vocal supporters of the Equal Representation for Actresses campaign (ERA), we regularly speak to the press and across social media about the need for a more sensible approach towards casting and wider employment within the industry and beyond.

What makes the RSC’s decision to put a programme of exclusively female-directed plays in place particularly interesting, is both the reasoning behind it and the context within which that decision takes place. Just a few months into her tenure as Artistic Director for The Globe, Emma Rice announced in October 2016 that she would be standing down this year, citing creative differences between the traditional and experimental. This led to an impassioned debate within the industry, and reopened the wider conversation on the role of women in and around Shakespearean drama.

This year the RSC will emerge as a leading platform for female directors in UK theatre, and it is the first time in the institution’s history that it will serve an all-female season. But look beyond the sex and you’ll find an evolution in stylistic approach that is not only concerned with equal representation, but actually dependent upon it.

Erica Whyman says that her Romeo and Juliet will be “about a group of grownups who have let their young people down”. In an age when anyone who is not seen to be on the extreme left or right of British politics is dubbed a ‘centrist dad’, it is clear that the disconnect between the traditional establishment and the emerging generation, not to mention the lack of healthy debate more generally, is as pronounced as it ever has been. A contemporary retelling of the play that Shakespearean scholar, Derick R. C. Marsh, once dubbed to be “Shakespeare’s account of the nature of young love” within the context of modern political disconnects, will surely be a powerful piece of literature.

And this is the message that the RSC brings us in 2018. We must all continue to strive for equality across gender, race, and sexuality in whichever industry sector we work in. But equality, particularly in the entertainment industry, is not the sole goal of these efforts within itself. Only by injecting new blood, and varied voices, and different perspectives, and pioneering ideas into the art we find around us, can we ever hope achieve a rounded debate and a forward thinking perspective on the issues of the day. If there is a sense that contemporary arts and ideas have stagnated over the past couple of years, then in 2018 we may well see not only a new day for equal representation, but also the new injection of life into art and entertainment that this will inevitably bring.