Interview: Jean Rogers

Jean Rogers is currently the sole female candidate standing for Equity President in the upcoming elections. Female Arts' Interviews Editor, Amie Taylor, ran a Q and A with her this week to find out a little more about her career, experience and what she will bring to this role if elected. If you are a member of Equity there is still time to vote!

AT: Firstly tell us a little about you and your career...

JR: My inspiration to becoming an actress stems really from my parents taking me to the "pictures" after school Friday teatime. I vividly remember hiding under the seat as a young soldier's leg was sawn off in a film about Florence Nightingale. Cinema, and listening to stories on the radio, stimulated my imagination and when at seven elocution lessons introduced me to poetry, I was hooked!

West Sussex County Council awarded me a grant to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and though no-one else in the family was in the business, apart from my great Uncle Charlie, who was a member of the Mohawk Minstrels in Ireland and viewed as " the black sheep", my parents were very supportive. My mother told me how she had to argue against the family view that training was a waste of money as "she'll just get married and have babies." Of course I proved them wrong as within two years of leaving Guildhall I was working with Laurence Olivier, first at Chichester and then in his new National Theatre Company.

AT: What are the problems you've faced working in the industry?

JR: Looking back I can see that being a woman and deciding I wanted a family has been an on-going problem. Although, up until I was fifty I went from job to job, I constantly seemed to make choices like most women do. The biggest decision was about motherhood. Unlike many of my contemporaries I was not willing to give that up and therefore after my son was born I chose to abandon theatre and concentrate on voice-work which kept me at home in London with a mostly 9-5 work pattern. Landing the part of Dolly Skilbeck in Emmerdale was a godsend. My children by then were nine and twelve and I was a single parent. It is because I seemed to spend most of my career pretending I didn't have children that I firmly support PIPA (Parents in the Performing Arts). I feel passionately that there should be a proper work/life balance in our industry. It is really the attitude to children that needs changing. For too long those in control have chosen to disregard family life seeing it as an unnecessary inconvenience in their great scheme of things.

AT: What inspired you to stand for Equity President?

JR: Twelve years ago, when I became Equity Vice President, a position I held for ten years which incidentally in most other unions would have led automatically to becoming President, I made a point of attending the Women's Committee meetings, something no male officer had thought to do. I learned of their worries about gender stereotyping and the lack of roles for older actresses, which I too was dramatically finding in my own career. Despite the reluctance of Equity to provide the necessary money to fund research I was able to access it through European sources and my work on gender equality was born. I am standing for President because of my belief in equality and also inspired by my predecessors, May Whitty, Marie Lloyd, Marie Tempest and all those wonderful Actress Franchise women such as Edith Craig and Ellen Terry, fighting for all performers' rights and freedoms.

AT: What do you think are the key problems within the industry in 2016?

JR: I am going to refer you to the recent article in the Stage - Meet the candidates for president of @EquityUK

AT: Gender disparity is still a huge problem across the board - only last week we aw the RSC announce a rep season with a cast of 16 men to 6 women, which is one case amongst many. What is your angle on this? If you became president of Equity, what measures would you take to address the imbalance?

JR: In my Equity statement I talk about working closely with the different equality groups that have sprung up in recent years outside of Equity, which is frustrating when I and other dedicated women in the Women's Committee and some on Council have tried so hard to move things on within Equity itself. Although Arts Council England are promising monitoring early next year, they still do not really recognise gender parity as a goal but talk of monitoring diversity which as we know intersects with female inequality dramatically. With the recent Brexit decision it will be more important than ever to link with Equal Representation of Actresses 50/50 (ERA), PIPA, Act for Change, Sphinx and brilliant young women like Lucy Kerbel to make sure our exit from Europe does not herald a departure from the equality legislation we have gradually built up in Britain through European influence. We also have to strengthen our arguments for continuing arts funding since financial streams many organisations have benefited from being in the EU are now in danger. I am presently setting up a group to look at NEROPA a casting tool aimed at a better balance in casting, the brainchild of a German actress colleague of mine. Already I am linking with ERA on this and exploring ways of publicising it with broadcasters and other employers. Exciting!

AT: What are the key qualities you feel you'll bring to the role, if elected?

JR: I believe I represent a change. To become the second female president in 86 years, with the first and only woman, Beatrix Lehmann, being 72 years ago makes a terrific statement for equality and I believe a breath of fresh air. For too long our collective, intelligent, refreshingly clear union's voice has been masked by a worryingly establishment entitlement overtone. I say - no more Luvvie blah, blah. Whenever I attend the Women's TUC Conferences the debates we have are rarely about so called women's concerns, they are about finance, education, violence, austerity, supporting men and protecting children. Our two Equity motions this year were on supporting the BBC and the Housing crisis. Again I refer you to my answer to this same question in the Stage article. I worry about the areas many members live and work in outside of London, and our union is not just about actors and actresses. I want to serve all the membership.

AT: Anything else?

JR: I am thrilled to say I have some wonderful supporters whose kind words you can read in my video and also do visit my webpage to see all the issues I have and am still involved in through my membership of the Stage Committee and the Women's committee.

Finally, I am so pleased to be nominated for the TUC Women's Gold Badge 2016. So many wonderful colleagues have helped me serve the union we are very, very proud to be members of - EQUITY! If you haven't done so already, do please use your vote and I hope you will help Equity make history by voting me your President.

AT: Huge thanks to Jean for this interview, and as she says, if you are a member and haven't yet voted - do! You have until the 6th July.

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