Book Review - All Change Please: A Practical Guide to Achieving Gender Equality in Theatre by Lucy Kerbel

It’s no secret that over recent years the theatre community has been forced to sit up and take notice of the shocking lack of diversity and gender equality both on stage and off. Despite some very encouraging steps forward in some of our theatres and institutions, our community evidentially still has a long way to go. It seems every few months someone is writing an article bemoaning all-female Shakespeare, or the “loss” of traditionally male roles to women. Tonic Theatre was created in 2011 to support the theatre industry in achieving greater gender equality, and it is Tonic’s own director and powerhouse Lucy Kerbel who brings us All Change Please – a Practical Guide to Achieving Gender Equality in Theatre, published by Nick Hern Books. Providing a series of provocations, Kerbel encourages readers to assess their current practices, address any bias, and put structures into place for lasting success.

Probably one of the most satisfying aspects of the book is that Kerbel outlines a myriad of ways that people at every level of the industry, from A-level students to Artistic Directors, can put her suggestions into practice. Importantly, she also details exercises to help you begin to identify, analyse and change your own behaviours and working practices. This is all done without being patronising or over-simplifying the problems our industry faces. Instead, reading the book seems like having a chat with your wisest friend – she doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she can certainly help you try to reach your own. In particular, her brilliant section on unconscious bias should be made required reading on any drama or theatre studies course.

Her style is down-to-earth, calming and easy to read. There’s no heavy theory or industry specific terminology to battle with, and the flow of the book is engaging and thought-provoking. With the book split into easily-manageable chunks, Kerbel is careful not to over-simplify the problems we face, but also makes individual change seem achievable. She continually impresses upon the reader that any act of small change for the better is important, whilst also being clear that real, lasting change will require tenacity, courage and focus. But just imagine what could be possible if everyone were to assess their practice and institute new structures and new ways of thinking! Kerbel uses the particularly good analogy of the 5p plastic bag tax making the astute comparison that it took just a small change in government policy to begin to make people think about if they really needed a plastic bag. She is also clear that in order to initiate change we must understand what we want versus how we can achieve it.

It’s also evident that Kerbel has a long history as a director within the industry, most markedly within her sub-chapter on Youth Theatre. As a teacher myself, it was comforting to see that consideration was being given over to our next generation of industry professionals and how to encourage them to develop thoughtful and inclusive working practices regardless of where in the industry they will end up (if in the industry at all!) Furthermore, Kerbel suggests more could be done to allow students access to a wider range of opportunities and potential careers in theatre, so women are encouraged in all fields.

This book is a fantastic starting point for anyone looking to help achieve real lasting change in gender equality in theatre, at any level. Even as someone who is regularly engaged with conversations on this topic and consider equality an important part of my working practice as an actor and director, it was helpful to have a step by step process for my own self-analysis. This isn’t preaching to the choir, it’s engaging for all. Kerbel never suggests the book is a catch-all or the answer to all the problems we face, but it is an enthusiastic and encouraging push in the right direction. Definitely one for the bookshelf.

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