As allegations of sexual misbehaviour and bullying became a common theme from within the industry, leaders galvanised themselves against those allegations and committed to providing safer workplaces for entertainment workers and those who support them.
More broadly, the conversation about opportunities for women at every level of the industry became louder.
As the Australian live performance industry celebrates its achievements across two nights of Helpmann Awards, we spoke to five female nominees to take the temperature of the industry as it undergoes one of the most important changes in its history.
Maggie McKenna, actress
Nominated for Best Female Actor in a Musical for Muriel’s Wedding.
“Seeing how the industry has changed in just a year because of brave women and the #MeToo movement is so inspiring as a young actor. You find yourself thinking, ‘If this is how much the industry can change in just the time I have been here, how much is possible?’.
“I really hope the generation after me who come into this industry won’t even know what others had to go through to pave the way for us to have safer workplaces.
“I feel like I have been extremely lucky with my timing coming into the industry, because everything has changed. I don’t know if, 10 years ago, I’d be able to speak up about anything inappropriate [if] that happened. Now I feel like I would have the support if it did happen.
“The variety of roles available for women is really interesting at the moment. I think Muriel’s Wedding is a great example of that because you have two strong female leads and neither of them are your traditional romantic lead.
“The world is changing and there are more interesting characters for women of different shapes and sizes and colours, and I would love there to be more of that.”
Elaine Crombie, actress
Nominated for Best Female Actor in a Play for An Octoroon.
“I went to a safe theatres conference a few months back and there was a whole host of artistic directors, producers and general managers from all the big mainstage theatre companies there. They all had the same want and hope for the future in regards to making our theatres safer places, with less of what has come to light.
“I think the changes we are seeing in relation to opportunities for women are good – and more than that, they are very necessary.
“The biggest change I have seen since I started in this industry 25 years ago is the number of females in senior roles. I have been filming a series with ABC which had a female director, a female producer, female director of photography… So we are seeing those opportunities on stage and in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes.
“On stage, An Octoroon had a female director and there has been a huge shift in the mainstage companies to give female directors more opportunities, which is really important.
“Let’s keep it going. We don’t need to reinvent anything, we are travelling in a good direction and we just need to keep going.”
Phoebe Briggs, head of music, Victorian Opera
Nominated for Best Music Direction for The Black Rider.
“I’ve always been lucky to be working among great women in this industry. I’ve never been aware of anyone not getting a job because she was a woman.
“The work that we do, we cast an opera, so there are characters that are female and characters that are men. You can’t say, ‘A woman should take that job because we need to be seen to be employing women’ – it doesn’t work like that.
“There are more women directors that have emerged over time. Within our workplace now, we have a fantastic percentage of women and we are an equal-opportunity company, definitely.
“There has been shift [in the industry], for sure, in the last year. It’s palpable because it’s also in the press, it’s part of everyday life. I think people are more conscious of things people say and actions people take.
“It’s an opportunity for companies to take stock, to set up or reconsider their processes. There are certain rules that perhaps, industry wide, had not been really taken seriously.
“When you look at the way Weinstein or any other case has come to light, certain behaviours, people think that’s just what happens in the arts. But it shouldn’t, and it’s not.
“I think the more people aware of what’s ‘right’ and what’s ‘wrong’, the better. And that will be in any work environment, not just the arts.”
Elise May, dancer, Expressions Dance Company
Nominated for Best Female Dancer in a ballet, dance or physical theatre production for Behind Closed Doors.
“In dance there are so many young females trained from a young age. It’s a carry-over from generations past that every young girl has that dream to be a professional ballet dancer. Many do follow that, and then are faced with a limited amount of jobs.
“It’s easier for men. Quite often, young men get into dance quite late but statistically have much more success gaining employment because there are fewer of them – and we still make work that evenly weights the male and female experience.
“In a sense, it’s heartbreaking to see. A lot of women don’t get to realise their dream. I don’t think it’s improving necessarily but what I do see is graduates equipped with a lot more skill sets, and those young women that are determined to make a go of it have more perspectives of what a career in dance could look like.
“In Australia there’s a much smaller percentage of women in choreography. We lose a lot of women who’ve had incredible careers as performers, who don’t have the confidence to translate that into choreography. There perhaps isn’t enough incentive.
“We’re at a time now when we have a lot of female role models in our industry. That’s really positive and probably the first time in a long time that’s been the case. I imagine the generations coming through are being inspired by that, particularly young women.”
Natalie O’Donnell, actress
Nominated for Best Female Actor in a musical for Mamma Mia.
“I think the phrase ‘opportunity for women’ sits uncomfortably with me. It makes it sound like we’re lucky to be given a go. It’s actually about recognition.
“Equal recognition that women are just as good at their jobs and therefore are appointed to or given positions that they are entitled to because of their talent, hard work ethic and skill level.
“I think that recognition has changed immensely over the years mainly through the efforts of extraordinary women who have worked tirelessly in creating long and successful careers.
“I’ve been in the industry for 20 years and have been fortunate enough that from the beginning of my career I have had incredible female role models guiding me through . People like my agent Lisa Mann, my current producer Louise Withers, Gale Edwards, Anne Wood. I’ve been surrounded by them my whole career.
“These women were among the game changers in our industry. They forged the path for equal recognition simply by being the best at their jobs.
“I think the mood of the industry has run the gamut of emotions. The stories of many of my colleagues sadden, frustrate and anger me. I am buoyed to see how seriously our industry is taking it all.
“There have been important conversations and the beginnings of change-making action, which is a hugely positive step.”