In June 2009 Paule Constable, a lighting designer at the absolute top of her profession, a three-time Olivier Award winner and in demand all over the world, organized a conference with Rachel Nicolson at Rose Bruford Collegein the UK. The purpose of the conference was to identify, examine and address some of the problems that affect the female lighting designer, technician, and industry member in what is still basically a male-dominated industry. The discussion resulted in identifying issues that were so important – it couldn’t end there.
At that point Paule, along with creative director and copywriter Sarah Rushton-Read founded WIL – Women in Lighting, which began as a website, morphed into a lively network and then became, WiSE, Women In Stage Entertainment, so as not to exclude sound technicians and other non-lighting categories.
As of today, WiSE is 240 members strong and growing every day with members in Europe and the U.S. WiSE represents women who have made successful careers and feel that the path for women is still uphill and are taking steps to make the industry listen to their voice.
The WiSE Mission Statement, penned by Sarah Rushton-Read – webmaster, publicist and co-founder of WiSE.
1. To offer women at all stages of their careers support, mentorship, internships and life long learning opportunities
2. To lobby to remove the barriers that women face in their daily working lives so they can flourish and thrive in their chosen careers
3. To ensure that successful women in the industry are more visible and provide positive role models
4. To illustrate ways in which women can continue to work in the industry once they settle down and/or have families
5. To encourage the industry to look at working hours and conditions, childcare facilities, jobshare potential, continuous learning and re-entry access points
6. To carry out funded research into the issues that affect women in stage entertainment industry and the ongoing effects those issues can have
Numbers four and five are my particular favorite action points. My individual case-study for WiSE was mostly dedicated to the difficulties in reconciling being a mother while trying to work in a profession in which “unmotherly” schedules are the rule. The phrase “to encourage the industry to look at working hours and conditions” in itself implies positive action as opposed to merely accepting how conditions have always been. A WiSE project is also afoot to compile a list of producers or venues who show flexibility and understanding in regards to child care. There is a wonderful web discussion at www.wiseonline.org in which our members who are mothers communicated with several younger members who had not yet had children but had been wondering how to manage a family and work.
Mentoring and education is a big part of WiSE. We want to create opportunities for women who are entering the field and help them avoid the roadblocks ahead by providing positive role models. Our membership encompasses the most successful part of the industry and it is vital to help women launch the careers for which they have studied and prepared despite the many obstacles that are placed before them. For example, we have discovered that some educational institutions discourage women from entering technical fields and try to direct them towards stage management, which is thought to be more suited to women. We have found that sometimes women feel insecure about their technical knowledge. One member told me about feeling uncomfortable around her male colleagues who deliberately slip into locker-room talk when she is around. Finally, we acknowledge that women are allowed fewer mistakes than men and therefore fewer opportunities for learning in “real time.” Young women need strength and confidence to overcome these obstacles and to this end we encourage mentoring.
PLASA 2010 saw a huge burst of activity for WiSE. As a substitute for the traditional late afternoon beer and bravado drinking sessions we had a daily “ tea o’clock “ in which WiSE members and friends served tea along with gorgeous home-made cakes and engaged in good talk with anyone who came by. It was THE place to meet your friends, make new ones and put on a pound or two in good company.
During PLASA a student WiSE group was formed, general WiSE membership reached over 200 and plans were made for establishing local WiSE sections in other countries. Sarah and Paule were also involved in a Wednesday seminar about career paths for women. Last, but certainly not least, we are very proud to mention that Coral Cooper received the life-time achievement award at the Knights of Illumination dinner. I can’t help wondering, what will she do with the sword?