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'Prostitutes, receptionists, barmaids'– Lyn Lee's International Women's Day address

This year, to mark International Women’s Day, 1965 NIDA Acting graduate Lyn Lee shared her personal #metoo story at morning tea.

NIDA's Natalie Freeman demonstrates the official International Women's Day #balanceforbetter pose.

This year, to mark International Women’s Day, 1965 NIDA Acting graduate Lyn Lee shared her personal #metoo story at morning tea.

Lyn Lee who, as well as still being a working actor and director, is also a NIDA Corporate course manager, spoke to the gathered crowd about how the film, theatre and television industry has changed for women since she was born – and how it hasn’t.

'When I first graduated, all of the work that I got was directed by men, and I played some powerful women on stage. I played Calpurnia, who lived in the shadow of Julius Caesar. I played Viola, who had to wear men’s clothes to get a job.

'I played Desdemona, who was murdered by the person who loved her, and I played Puck, who did the bidding of a fairy prince. Come on Shakespeare, you’ve got a lot to answer for.

'But when I did screen work, in the early days I played a receptionist, a barmaid, a prostitute on the beat, a high-class prostitute, a pivotal role as an engineer… and then back to playing a prostitute, this time one who was beaten up by her pimp.

'Can we see a pattern here? I don’t know that it says something about me, or whether it says something about the roles that were available.

Actor, director, NIDA Corporate course manager and 1965 NIDA Acting graduate, Lyn Lee

'I lost out on roles because I refused to sleep with the directors. I was desperate to get those roles. They were lead roles. But it was made very clear to me that if I didn’t deliver sexual favours, I wouldn’t get those lead roles.

'I wanted those roles, really badly. But I wanted them because I was a good actor.'

As Lyn spoke, the weight of her emotion, and the darkness of those experiences, was evident.

'I want you to know that I have absolutely loved spending my life in this profession. Working in something that I love, working with people who are enthusiastic, dedicated, passionate, creative, fantastic– I have been privileged to work in this profession.

'But this balance is not good enough. Not in our society. And have things changed? Not very much.'

Lyn went on to cite some film industry statistics from data scientist Miriam Quick. There has only ever been one woman to win an Academy Award for Directing– Katherine Bigelow, The Hurt Locker, 2009.

There is only one woman to have ever even been nominated for an Academy Award for cinematography, and that was only last year­– Rachel Morrison, Mudbound, 2018. She didn’t win it.

2018 Acting graduate Vivienne Awosoga rehearsing 2018 June production Venus in Fur, directed by Kate Cherry.

When Lyn was at NIDA in the early 1960s, all the productions she appeared in were directed by men. Has that changed?

Thankfully, yes. NIDA has two large-scale, whole-school production seasons in June and October each year. NIDA always engages professional directors from the industry to direct the productions in these seasons.

In 2018, these comprised five female directors– Susanna Dowling, Elsie Edgerton-Till, Kate Cherry, Anthea Williams and Kate Gaul, and five male directors– Finn Caldwell (UK), Oleg Glushkov (RUS), Dr Ben Shostakowski, Adam Mitchell and John Bashford.

Not only does this support the women themselves, but it also leads by example in showing the students that, despite a long history to the contrary, women and men have equal rights to the director’s chair.

This change in the industry is also supported by NIDA’s intake of Directing students. Last year, and this year, the cohort was equally split between female and male students.

NIDA staffer making a #balanceforbetter pledge on International Women's Day

Dr Amanda Morris, NIDA’s Executive Director Conservatoire, said, 'International Women's Day marks a moment in the year when you can reflect not only on the achievements of the past, but also on how we can keep moving forward.

As Lyn Lee was speaking, I was thinking about the changes and achievements that we have made – but then really how far have we come, and what can we do to make swifter change for the young women coming through?

'In my position at NIDA I have the opportunity to really make a difference to a whole generation moving through here as students– so for me, that’s the critical thing. How can we shift the change so it happens more rapidly.

'I’ve also been reflecting on how many women have been important in my career, and given me opportunities at key times– often unexpectedly. I’ve been thinking of how, from NIDA, we can use our networks to support women in the arts Australia-wide.'

NIDA's International Women's Day pledge table

Dr Melissa Laird, NIDA’s Executive Director Student Engagement, Learning and Quality Assurance, commented on how #balanceforbetter is incorporated into the NIDA curriculum:

'We’re cultivating leadership capacity in students so that they can make change in the industry. We lead by example, we mentor and support one another. Female students are taught to show leadership; it’s a significant and important re-imagining of women in the performing arts.'

Pledge wall at NIDA's International Women's Day celebration

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