Research shows gender imbalance in writers of British musical theatre.
Mercury Musical Developments launches new initiatives to support female musical theatre writers.
New research into the gender balance of composers, lyricists and playwrights in UK theatre has found that there remains a large discrepancy in the representation of writers credited for main stage productions in 2022. 74% of all credited writers were male, with 26% female and non-binary, and only 9% of West End composers were female or non-binary.
The data, compiled by writers Kate Marlais, Meg McGrady and Sarah Middleton with the support of Mercury Musical Developments, was taken from productions taking place in 2022 with runs of two weeks or more, in venues of 200+ capacity. This amounted to researching 500 productions across 132 UK venues.
Within musical theatre across the UK, 83% of composers were male, compared to 78% of lyricists and 65% of librettists. Over the year, 60 male, 24 female and 3 non-binary musical theatre writers were commissioned to create brand new shows. In the West End (including plays and musicals) the difference was starker as composers were 91% male, lyricists were 90% male and playwrights/librettists were 77% male.
In London (including West End, Off-West End and larger fringe venues), credited writers of all disciplines across plays, musicals, opera and dance were 77% male, 21% female and 2% non-binary. Outside of London there was a greater balance with 69% male, 29% female and 2% non-binary writers credited at regional theatres.
Across all genres of production, playwrights/librettists had the greatest gender balance with a split of 69% male, 30% female and 1% non-binary. Within music and song writing there was less female/non-binary representation with composers 80% male, 18% female and 2% non-binary; and lyricists 78% male, 20% female and 2% non-binary.
The data shows that the gender split of writers of musical theatre is even more imbalanced than the writers of plays.
To create more opportunities to balance the sector, Mercury Musical Developments, the UK’s membership organisation for musical theatre writers, has committed to five years of initiatives to support and champion female and non-binary writers, funded by the Jane Goodman Charitable Trust. In 2021 and 2022, five women took part in fully funded writing residencies with the Hosking Houses Trust.
Today MMD announces two new initiatives for 2023.
In April 2023, a five-day residential retreat will be held for a group of female-identifying MMD members, run in association with Find Your Light Retreat CIC and held at The Quadrangle in Shoreham, Kent. Free of charge for participants, the week will include career coaching and skill development, and aims to build a supportive community of women writers. Applications will open in January.
January will also see Mercury Musical Developments launch the Jane Goodman Writing Fund, to which female-identifying and non-binary MMD members can apply for a grant to cover costs for writing time, equipment, assistance or career-enhancing opportunities.
Natalia Scorer, Executive Director of Mercury Musical Developments, says,
“These statistics highlight the disparity between which writers’ voices are heard on the British stage. As part of our mission to nurture and advocate for writers of musical theatre, we are delighted to announce these new initiatives for 2023 to support the careers and craft of female and non-binary writers. We would like to thank the Jane Goodman Charitable Trust for their support for these projects.”
In recent years several other organisations and initiatives have been established with the aim of addressing the gender imbalance. In 2019, Kate Marlais set up Modulate (www.timetomodulate.org), a platform to promote and support female and non-binary composers writing for the UK stage. In 2023, the Women’s Musical Theatre Initiative (WMTI) will be returning, founded by composer Bella Barlow and bookwriter/lyricist A.C. Smith with support from London Playwrights Workshop. The WMTI initially hosted a cabaret series to raise funds for future projects supporting women writers. The WMTI recently launched a new website at www.songsbywomen.org and its next phase of activity will be announced in Spring 2023.
Research data collated by:
Kate Marlais - composer, writer, lyricist, musical director, performer and founder of Modulate.
@katemarlais on all socials.
Meg McGrady – composer, writer, lyricist, performer and producer. They/them.
@megmcgrady on all socials.
Sarah Middleton – writer, lyricist, actor and co-director of Shewolves Productions. She/her.
Women’s Musical Theatre Initiative
January 2023 sees Mercury Musical Developments launch the Mercury Writers Barn retreat for female writers and the Jane Goodman Writing Fund, to which female-identifying and non-binary MMD members can apply for a grant to cover costs for writing time, equipment, assistance or career-enhancing opportunities.
Click the images below for full details.
Mercury Writers Barn
A four-night retreat for female writers of musical theatre to connect, find creative inspiration, and develop their craft at a beautiful rural location in Shoreham, Kent. Created in association with Find Your Light Retreat and taking place Monday 17th to Friday 21st April 2023.
Jane Goodman Writing Fund
Small grants available to female and non-binary MMD members. This fund forms part of our activities to champion female/non-binary musical theatre writers, supported by the Jane Goodman Charitable Trust. You may apply for grants of up to £1000. There is no minimum grant amount.