The Company began in 1983 as a group of nine women who came together for a course of drama workshops funded by the Workers Educational Association entitled Women & Theatre. The workshops led to a devised piece, Choices, about teenage pregnancy that toured in 1984, followed by The Saving of Erutan, a peace pantomime. Four of the group, Janice Connolly, Polly Wright, Jo Broadwood and Sue Learwood, decided to continue the work on a full time basis and form a women’s theatre company. They worked collaboratively to research, devise, write and produce new theatre relevant to the experiences of women.
In 1986 Women & Theatre was incorporated as a professional limited company and became a registered charity in 1987.
In 1989, in response to the need for public education around HIV, the Company began to focus on work that centred on health and social care issues. Although Theatre in Education had been a well established movement since the 60`s the concept of Theatre and Drama being used to raise awareness of issues with communities outside of the school environment was seen to be new. The success and efficacy of using theatre in health promotion began to be taken seriously. Although “hard to measure” it was generally accepted by professionals that it had the power to impart hard facts as well as encourage attitudinal and therefore, potentially the all important behavioural change. The Company developed a national reputation for excellence in the fields of Theatre In Education, Theatre in Health Education and in the use of theatre as a training tool for health professionals. While retaining the core principle of representing women’s experience, the Company also worked with male and mixed groups.
Over time the member’s interests diversified and 3 of the 4 co-founders left the Company to pursue solo projects. Janice Connolly remained committed to the Company and its ideals and in 1995 became the Artistic Director. Working with administrators and a pool of freelance artists Janice developed the Company’s profile for new writing and increased the canon of work being produced.
In 1997 the Company was awarded a National Lottery grant for 2 Mercedes Benz vans, and touring equipment. The Company restated its commitment to producing theatre of the highest quality for new spaces and diverse audiences. In 1998 Victoria Firth was appointed as the first General Manager, to co-run the Company with Janice.
In 2000 the Company celebrated the millennium with a national tour of a new musical play, Tribe of Beorma. To differentiate this project from our health repertoire we called it Women & Theatre On Tour. This strand of work allowed the company to create a new high quality art product for small scale touring to regional and national arts venues. There have been two further W&T On Tour productions – Fag Hag (2002) and The Bad One (2004).
In 2002 the Women’s Nationwide Cancer Control Campaign granted funds to Women & Theatre for two initiatives. The first was to fund 3 national tours of the Company’s award-winning breast health play The Learning Curve. The remaining funds were to develop a new piece raising awareness around cervical cancer. Like all of the Company’s work the process began with in-depth research and interviews were conducted with women and health professionals in Birmingham. These interviews were then used to create a series of monologues intended to entertain, inform, empower and inspire. The resulting production The Cervical Monologues premiered at the Birmingham Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre in March 2005 and toured nationally to community & health venues, and is now the Company’s most frequently requested production.
In February 2004 Women & Theatre were announced overall winners of GlaxoSmithKline’s Impact Awards for excellence in community health, receiving a prize of £30,000.
In September 2004, one full-time and one part-time Associate Director posts were created, forming a core artistic company of three with the Artistic Director. Projects continue to be delivered by this core team working alongside a pool of talented freelance actors, facilitators, stage managers, designers and filmmakers.
In 2007, Women & Theatre was awarded Organisational Development funding from Arts Council of England, West Midlands with which to develop its operations to ensure the quality of its artistic work alongside long term financial security.
2008 sees Women & Theatre celebrate our 25th year, and we look forward to the next 25 years working alongside communities and partners, creating illuminating new work about things that matter.