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Diversity on stage needs to be tackled

REPRESENTING: Debbie Korley in Whistle Down The Wind

A REPORT looking in to the representation of various ethnicities has concluded that if the theatre does not become more diverse it risks becoming irrelevant to the majority of the British
population.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation published Centre Stage last week, a report examining issues surrounding the pipeline of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) trained talent into musical theatre. The qualitative research, carried out by Danuta Kean and Mel Larsen, found that the failure of drama schools to take in enough BAME talent has led to a shortage of actors for specific roles in musicals such as Dream Girls and Motown the Musical as well as making it impossible to cast a range of diverse actors across the board in theatre.

The report looks at what can be done to improve the supply chain to productions and how lasting cultural change can be brought to the stage so that black and Asian talent is no longer missed or marginalised.

More than 60 theatrical professionals from drama students to teachers to actors and theatre directors were interviewed as part of the research, which unveiled a wide range of barriers preventing the industry from fostering new talent. Financial constraints was one of the key reasons BAME students were discouraged from pursuing training and further undermining the recruitment process is the fact that drama teaching, theatre visits and resources in state schools are under threat.

Lack of representation on stage leads to a vicious cycle of BAME students feeling that the stage is ‘not for them’. The report found that this is the primary reason that parents discourage their children from a career in theatre.

Providing opportunity beyond the stage was also highlighted as just as important as what happens on it. Diversity needs to be addressed at all levels – from commissioning of writers, to production staff to those in leadership roles in order to bring about effective change.

Making a series of ‘strong recommendations to those who can take leadership and action to bring about effective change’, the Centre Stage report added:

● Arts sector bodies (including the Arts Council and UK Theatre) should take a key role in setting-up a resource so that best practice can be shared and young people and schools can find out about all the relevant initiatives that can help them progress in the industry

● Drama schools should set a self-imposed target of 50 per cent of places being subsidised to take away financial barriers

● Producers, directors and creatives should take a lead on making their workforce more culturally diverse – specifically on committing to colour-blind casting, commissioning more works from BAME authors and ensuring lighting and make-up technicians are trained to work with BAME actors

● Philanthropists should follow the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation’s lead and make cultural diversity one of their criteria for funding. Lloyd Webber said:

“I passionately believe that the stage needs to reflect the diversity of the UK population or it risks becoming side-lined.”

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