Agent 160 is a writer-led all female theatre company. Taking their name from Aphra Benn, a female playwright/spy (Agent 160 was her codename). We spoke to Lisa Parry, one of the founders and playwrights of Agent 160.
Lisa was driven to set up Agent 160 after a conference led by the Sphinx Theatre Company in 2010 revealed the shocking statistic that only 17% of all plays across the UK are written by women. “There’s a massive gap and you need to try and address that by putting on more work.” Agent 160 became a way of addressing this gap in a practical way.
Fun Palaces is made up of 16 short plays all written by women including one written by Lisa titled ‘A Mother’s Heart.’ But it would be a mistake to assume that Agent 160 simply stages plays on the subject of women’s rights that would be inaccessible to men. “I think the audience is roughly 60/40 women and actually women buy 55% of theatre tickets across the country anyway. I think people just want to come and see the work, we never tell the writers to write about anything, they can write about whatever they want to write about. Which is great because sometimes women feel like they’re being told to write about domestic issues or women are pushed into writing children’s plays and not the plays about war. So we never have an agenda. And I think guys just wanted to come and see the work by the playwrights and they should because they’re good. People were coming to watch theatre. I think because of the nature of Agent 160 when you’re thinking about stuff you might touch more on some topics that people would consider more female. Because you’re free to do that if you want to but you don’t have to, you can write about what on earth you want to write about. And people just want to come and see your work.”
Agent 160 got 25% of it’s funding through kickstarter. “We got 75% of our funding from Arts Council Wales, which is fantastic. But you have to then find the other 25% which for us was finding about £3,500, which is really hard to do. Kickstarter gives you a way you can do it and it gives you a way you can get people involved from the off and then people who donate we’ve been updating them all the way through, we’re still sending them updates now so they feel really involved. It’s becoming more and more common to fund shows like this and it’s a really good tool and it’s an easy one to use. One of the great things about getting our funding through kickstarter is it shows there’s an appetite for the work. It shows there’s an appetite for women’s writing and for actresses doing monologues and for female directors to be staging work.”
On Sunday 5th October Agent 160 will be hosting a talk at the Wales Millennium Centre titled ‘Women, Do you know what you’re angry about?’ This talk takes inspiration from Joan Sheila Delaney’s comment after critics condemned her play A Taste of Honey saying she was just like the angry young men dominating British Theatre but Joan Littlewood who directed A Taste of Honey said no, Delaney knew was she was angry about. We asked Lisa about the place of women in society today. “There are still massive issues facing women today and we don’t really talk about them.” The talk is not just going to be a lecture on the subject of women’s place in theatre though “It’s not just going to be about theatre at all, that’s just going to be a launch point off so people can talk about what things are making them really angry as women. Because theatre’s great but it’s part of society and it’s more of a social discussion.”
Agent 160 is definitely taking the lead in changing the face of theatre “I think the thing is with theatre, it’s difficult because I think people do still think of it as quite elite even though it’s not. I don’t think it is at all, but again you’ve got this discrepancy and I think you either try and change it and take the lead on something like this or you don’t, and I think it’s kind of all part of a big picture. Young girls coming through if they see female writers getting their work put on they’re more likely to want to be writers. If they’re not seeing it, they’re not going to be writers are they? Same problem with directors. There’s a massive problem with female directors at the moment. And actors as well. I think because the problem is you start off and you’re young and you’re enthusiastic and you see loads of people your age getting roles and then you get to forty and there’s no parts…what does that say about us as a society? We don’t value women’s experiences? It’s just ludicrous. If the play’s good, the play’s good and people want to see good work. I think it’s awful if someone’s story can’t come through or we’re getting the same stories again and again, through no fault of the writers. You need to commission people with wide ranges of experiences. Women have experiences and should be on stage.”
Head down to the Wales Millennium Centre on Sunday 5th October to take part in Agent 160’s talk ‘Women, do you know what you’re angry about?’ And check out their plays being staged all day on Saturday 4th October and Sunday 5th October at the Wales Millennium Centre ‘Fun Palaces.’