International Women’s Day Queens of Theatre were once limited to a handful of names in an industry dominated by men. This year’s International Women’s Day theme #choosetochallenge shows just how far we’ve come. It wasn’t until the middle ages that German writer Hrothsvitha put women on the European theatre map. Even then, it took until 1670 for female actors to finally take their place on the British stage. Similarly, trailblazers like poet Emilia Bassano (recently portrayed in Emilia at the Vaudeville Theatre), were overlooked and undervalued.
Over the past two centuries, pioneers like Bristol Old Vic theatre manager Sarah Macready, producer/manager Lilian Baylis and Theatre Workshop’s Joan Littlewood have lit the way. Today’s talent pool is far deeper. This International Women’s Day, Queens of Theatre shines a spotlight on six amazing women still reshaping the theatre landscape.
Nica Burns OBE – Producer
To describe Nica Burns as a producer is to vastly understate her influence on British Theatre. Together with Max Weitzenhoffer, Burns is co-owner of Nimax Theatres. Moreover, she was one of the first theatre owners to reopen to audiences after lockdown in 2020. Her determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds is legendary. Burns’ considerable achievements include:
- Multi-award winning producer of over 100 shows
- Previous Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse
- Co-owner of the Apollo, Duchess, Garrick, Lyric, Palace and Vaudeville theatres
- Director of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards
As a West End Producer, Nica Burns has brought multiple prestigious productions to the London Stage. These include box office smash Jerusalem and the much-loved Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre. The musical has just announced its return to the West End from 20th May. Browse tickets here.
As a matter of fact, Nica is one of many influential female producers. These include Sonia Friedman, Tali Pelman, Judy Craymer, Becky Barber, Rachel Williams, Rachel Tyson, Sarah Brocklehurst, Kate Pakenham, Libby Brodie, Danielle Tarento and Sally Greene.
Katori Hall – Book Writer
The term “book” refers to the plot and dialogue in a musical. Although, without a book writer there is no musical. Katori Hall is an American playwright, journalist, actor and activist. She draws on all that experience to tell the story of Tina Turner in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical. Katori first caught the attention of the British theatre world with her play The Mountaintop. It tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr’s final night before his death, and won the 2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play. Katori’s Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is as gritty as any drama you’ll see in the West End.
Of course, Katori is not alone. Other female book writers include Lisa Kron (Fun Home) and Emerald Fennell (Cinderella). Add to those, Winnie Holzman (Wicked) and Catherine Johnson (Mamma Mia). Then, there’s the incredible list of female playwrights. Coupled with book writers, playwrights are the master crafters of theatre. We’ll take a look at just a few of those next.
We had the pleasure of interviewing the cast of Tina – The Tina Turner Musical for International Women’s Day in 2019 – check it out below!
Lucy Prebble – Playwright
Theatregoers will know Lucy Prebble for her hit play Enron. This dealt with the corruption, scandal and collapse of a US energy giant. The play was nominated in 2010 for Best New Play at the Olivier Awards. Ironically, Prebble lost out to Katori Hall, whose play The Mountaintop also beat Jerusalem, produced by Nica Burns! Prebble’s star first rose with the Royal Court play Sugar Syndrome. It won several awards including the 2004 TMA Award for Best New Play. Her other plays include The Effect and A Very Expensive Poison.
As well as Lucy Prebble, check out these other great playwrights: Lucy Kirkwood, Lynn Nottage, Moria Buffini, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Laura Wade, Nina Raine and Anya Reiss. By the same token, we can’t leave out Caryl Churchill. That just wouldn’t be right.
Jennifer Weber – Choreographer
This trailer for & Juliet offers tantalising glimpses of Jennifer Weber’s stunning Olivier Award nominated choreography. You can experience it in glorious technicolor when & Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre returns in June 2021. Weber is based in NYC and Los Angeles and has worked with Disney, and stars from the worlds of Ballet and Hip-Hop. Her star is in the ascendent so remember her name!
Choreographers past and present include Agnes De Mille, Pina Bausch and Susan Stroman. Additionally, Joann Hunter is choreographing new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. Gillian choreographed Cats, which ran for an incredible 21 years. The theatre now bears her name.
Lucy Moss – Writer/Director
One of the brightest stars on the West End Theatre scene is one half of the writing team of hit musical Six, Lucy Moss. The show is an intoxicating Tudor Take-off with a fabulously witty pop score. It was co-written by Moss with fellow Cambridge graduate Toby Marlow and co-directed with Jamie Armitage. Moss has directed shows at the Soho Theatre and written for Channel 4. Her work on Six made her the youngest female director in Broadway history. The show was in previews when the whole of Broadway was closed by Coronavirus. But it will take more than a pandemic to stop this star’s meteoric rise.
Theatre already has an impressive list of female directors. These include Marianne Elliot, Phyllida Lloyd, Lyndsey Turner, Yäel Farber, Carrie Cracknell, Blanche McIntyre, Hannah Price and Josie Rourke. And, less well known for her directing work, the legend that is Dame Judi Dench.
Gabriela Tylesova – Designer
Gabriela Tylesova is a multiple award winning internationally renowned designer. Her set and costume designs takes her around the world. They include Love Never Dies (Australia) and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar. Her work has a fairytale quality – utterly perfect for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical Cinderella.
We couldn’t discuss theatre design without mentioning three more towering names. Firstly, Maria Björnson. Her iconic designs for the original production of Phantom of the Opera dominated the West End for decades. Secondly, Julie Taymor. Julie’s creative vision ensured that the Lion King is still thrilling audiences around the world. Thirdly, Rachel Hauck, whose stunning scenic designs for Hadestown scooped the 2019 Tony Award.
Finally, we hope we’ve inspired you to become a part of International Women’s Day Theatre. Of course, all these incredible women started out like you. A person with a dream – and dreams make theatre happen. For more inspiration, check out these International Women’s Day Queens of Theatre – the casts of Tina – The Tina Turner Musical and Wicked.