“I always wanted to write about ballet, from being about sixteen years of age, all I wanted to do was write about dance.” As the former Arts Editor in Chief at the Telegraph and now freelance arts writer, Sarah Crompton successfully achieved her dream in writing about ballet, and she has made an astounding name for herself in her extensive career writing about theatre and the arts.
Sarah has had an astounding career, she told me: “I am at an age where people trained as journalists. I met a dance critic that worked for The Times, I wrote him a letter and asked him how I can become a critic, and he advised me at that point to go into journalism as it was probably the best way to do it, and so I went to university.”
After going to Oxford to do a post graduate degree in journalism, she graduated and got a job at the Coventry Evening Telegraph as a general news reporter. “Whilst I was there, obviously I was around Stratford, Warwick, Coventry and Birmingham, so I started to write about the arts in my spare time,” she said. Sarah then got another job writing for women’s magazines, whilst doing that for five years she constantly kept writing about ballet in her free time and eventually got a job at the Telegraph. After about fifteen years at the Telegraph, Sarah left to become a freelance writer. “I write fewer reviews now, I write more features about dance, theatre and art and that has been a great pleasure.”
“When I started thirty years ago it was such a different landscape, now with the internet it is such a huge world where you can write and have a view. It has changed so quickly and it is amazing.”
As an aspiring theatre journalist and arts writer, I am frequently flipping through the pages of newspapers like The Stage to find female writers that I can look up to. However there are a distinct lack of female arts writers that are being published in national papers. I asked Sarah why she thinks there are such a shortage of female critics and writers, she said: “I don’t know, but there are more coming through and that is a good thing. I think it is because journalism, to some extent, has always been male dominated. The other thing is that if you get a job as an arts writer or critic, you tend to hang onto it because it is such a brilliant job, and an awful lot of the male critics have been enthroned for a very long time.”
She also touched upon the issues that women face with childcare, “I think the problems with being a reviewer as a woman, is to do with having children. There is a lot of going out and seeing stuff, and that means not seeing as much of your children which creates childcare issues,” she said. Sarah is fortunate enough to have a husband that is hugely supportive and takes an equal share of everything.
Sarah explained: “You either need to earn so much money that you can afford incredibly good childcare, which of course without equal pay it is quite hard, or you need a partner or parent to compromise in order for you to work. Regarding my own experience, I couldn’t have done it without my husband and I was lucky because I had two really good nannies.”
“I do think it is getting better and a lot of the younger critics are women and that is great, and a lot are coming through from blogs. I think you want a much wider range of critics, you need different opinion and taste, and I think it is happening.”
Sarah then talked about an old colleague of hers, an arts writer on a national paper who said she didn’t want to have children. She said she couldn’t imagine having done her job with children because it involved her having to go out at the drop of a hat. She wouldn’t be able to go somewhere and change all of her plans for the day. “So it is very hard, and I think the women coming up will have those decisions to make,” Sarah added.
In regards to Maxine Peake’s Hamlet, Sarah emphasised the importance of gender roles being reversed in theatre. “I think it is great, but it is important to recognise that it has been going on a long time. For example Sarah Bernhardt’s Hamlet, even the male critics that didn’t want to like it, did like it,” Sarah explained. She thinks it is hugely important that women say “we can play these parts” and the more it happens, the better it will be.
Sarah feels that part of the discrimination women face is because of the images we have of women. “They are not portrayed as leaders, nor portrayed as people making decisions. Women don’t tend to be the central part in many plays and films, and that affects everybody because both men and women only see one element of women’s lives.”
“I think it is important that we put as many pictures of women on stage as we can.”
Sarah thinks that taking traditionally male parts and having women play them, is one way we can move forward in regards to discrimination in theatre. “We must encourage drama that highlights women’s voices, women’s worries and women’s personality,” she said.
As there are a lack of plays with strong female roles, Sarah thinks that is something theatres need to think about when they produce a season. She explained: “They need to realise what a season of plays look like, I’m not saying that every play should have dominant women, but when people are thinking about seasons they need to think about where we can include strong women. I don’t think it is difficult, it is refreshing to have diversity.”
“I want to have more women on stage and more women on stage in central roles, I just want women to have a voice.”