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Windsor Fringe declines director's application because she is female

Olorunfemi Fagunwa applied to take part in the Kenneth Branagh New Writing Award at Windsor Fringe Festival


© Pedro Cano (Flickr)

Windsor Fringe Festival is the focus of a gender discrimination scandal, after correspondence emerged yesterday showing the festival's organisers rejected a director's application because she was female.

Olorunfemi Fagunwa, a University of Surrey law graduate whose theatre credits include Super Skinny Bitches at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, applied to be a director as part of the Kenneth Branagh New Writing Award at Windsor Fringe Festival. The response from the venue read:

"Dear Femi,

Thank you so much for your interest.

It was a hard decision but the committee & the play's writer have agreed that a male director would be better for this play. I've kept your CV on file & hope you'll work for us another year. If you'd like a comp for the performances please contact me."

In a public post on her Facebook page, Fagunwa said: "Sexism as [a] decision making tool is completely unintelligent and those who help to perpetuate it further, especially in so obvious a manner, are beyond foolish!

"...And let's not forget that one of your former judges, namely Rosemary Squire has openly discussed the need for more women in the theatre."

The Windsor Fringe was founded in 1969 as a platform to promote new talent and runs a multi-arts programme annually in the Berkshire town. The festival features the Kenneth Branagh New Writing Award, previous judges include Hilary Mantel and Rosemary Squire. This year's judges are actress Jenny Seagrove, currently starring in How the Other Half Loves at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and director Andrew C Wadsworth.

Playwright David Hendon, whose play Eyes to the Wind is one of this year's winners, contacted WhatsOnStage to distance himself from the correspondence. In an email he said: "I had no contact at all with the committee regarding the director of my play.

"I was informed I was in the final and that a director would be appointed... At no point was I asked for an opinion on their gender or anything else and at no point did I give one."

Dr Mike Denny, chairman of The Windsor Fringe also contacted WhatsOnStage with the following apology:

"The Windsor Fringe would like to apologise for the unacceptable and hurtful contents of the e-mail to Olorunfemi Fagunwa.

"The contents of the email were a result of extremely poor communication and lack of judgment and not a reflection on the selection process. All applicants are judged on merit only and it is a priority of Windsor Fringe to promote and deliver equality and diversity as we support new and emerging artists... We have confirmed our three directors, all selected on merit only.

"We deeply regret the offence caused by the email content."

WhatsOnStage contacted Kenneth Branagh who was unable to provide a comment at the time of publishing.

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