Ageism in the arts

Caroline Maher talks to about her struggles to find a job, and even to get an interview, decades of experience in the theatre.


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Caroline Maher has applied for hundreds of jobs since signing up for Universal Credit in March 2020. Despite having a CV bursting with experience of directing youth theatre productions nationally and internationally, including many Shakespeare plays, she has not even got an interview – even for a low paid role as a dresser or a tour guide.

She is certain this is due to the fact that she is 60, even though she is very fit and has bags of stamina. “I cannot even get anyone to see me. I am really lost,” she says. “I don’t get a look in. It is absolute ageism.”

Caroline was an actor in the 1980s and then went into teaching. She has held positions as head of drama in schools, but her passion is in her many years of work as a freelance youth theatre director.

She feels age is the one protected characteristic that it seems employers can overlook when it comes to discrimination. She thinks ageism is rife in the arts, saying most of the people who are considering her CV seem to be about 30 years younger than her. “I used to think that the arts were very open minded and creative,” she says. “I am open to new ideas, I work well in a team. If I could get the opportunity to do an interview and get people to look at me I would have a chance, but I don’t even get interviews. It is becoming a very serious issue.”


Caroline has been told by the Job Centre that she could retrain as a technician – and, bonus, get a van. “That would involve climbing up poles and dealing with wiring. They really do need to be realistic. I am fit, but at 60 I don’t fancy climbing up poles. Yet the plays I have directed have had brilliant reviews and I have helped thousands of young people. That is my vocation,” she says. “My heart is in working with young people in a dramatic environment doing shows.”

She is adamant that she doesn’t want to return to teaching with all the stress and discipline issues that involves, particularly with all the added pressures caused by the pandemic. Yet this might be what she has to do. She admits that part of the problem is that there have not been as many jobs in the arts due to the impact of Covid, but says more and more are being advertised now. Even so she still doesn’t get any interviews.

Caroline’s last job was a short-term contract which finished in March 2020 when the schools closed. She has been on Universal Credit ever since and is facing mounting debts. She needs to keep working until she can claim her pension. “I am too young to get my pension and too old to get a job, it seems,” says Caroline, whose mental health has been badly affected to the extent that she is on anti-depressants.

She has been told she will have to go on a programme where she will be advised how to present her CV better. This is even though she has taught English in the past. “God knows what they will come up with,” she says, adding that she has already taken to cutting a few years off her CV and disguising that she did O Levels. Even so, she says people can see that she got her Equity card in the 1980s so they can work out her age.

Caroline, who has brought up her son, now 29, on her own while working, is well aware that she is resilient and more than capable. But she says her mum told her that, when you get to a certain age, particularly if you are a woman, you become invisible. “She is right,” she says. “But people are living longer and we have so much more to give. We need to change our values. I am so angry. I feel that I am being silenced.”

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