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Sphinx Theatre introduces Bechdel Test for the Stage

10th Dec 2015

Sphinx Theatre introduces Bechdel Test for the Stage
A theatre company has launched a new initiative to tackle gender bias in playwrighting.

It’s been used to take the temperature of gender bias in comics, films and television shows; now, the Bechdel Test is going to be adapted for use in analysing theatre productions.

Back in 2014, we reported on Tonic Theatre‘s pretty damning research findings that just 37% of roles on stage are for women, and the work of women playwrights makes up a mere 8% of staged productions. In response to these statistics, eleven high-profile theatres committed to tackling gender bias in their output. Now a smaller theatre company has launched its own gender initiative, specifically inspired by the Bechdel Test.

In case you’ve been living under a feminist-literary rock (unlikely if you’re reading this), the Bechdel Test was created by graphic artist, Alison Bechdel, as a way to highlight the lack of complex characters and plot-lines for women on film. In order to pass the test, a movie must feature at least two named roles for women, and those characters must have a conversation about something other than a man. Since it appeared in Bechdel’s 1985 comic The Rule in Dykes to Watch Out For the test has proved a useful instigator of discussions around gender representation. By the end of 2013, four Swedish cinemas had even started including a ‘Bechdel rating’ on all their movies.

the repertoire is just stagnant and is repeating itself with very small changes, but no huge step forward Now Sphinx Theatre has joined the conversation by creating its own test, in an effort to encourage playwrights and theatre-makers to rethink the way they present women on stage. The ‘Sphinx Test’ will ask how prominently women feature in the drama, whether they are proactive or reactive, how they interact with other women and whether they avoid stereotype.

Launching the initiative at the Actors Centre in London on November 28, Sphinx Artistic Director, Sue Parrish said the test was “the result of a lot of conversations about how frustrating it can sometimes be that it seems that the repertoire is just stagnant and is repeating itself with very small changes, but no huge step forward.”

She went on to say the test will be “in no way prescriptive” but “a way of helping artistic directors and people who commission at all levels to think about how they might address imbalances.”

The test will now be disseminated to theatres and organisations across the UK.

One issue that is less clear, is whether this test will also address the imbalance identified in representation on stage for BAME actors – something the Art Council also committed to improving in their recent agreement.

What do you think about the test? Can publishers instigate something similar when they buy books?