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Stars of the stage back plan to foster inclusion in theatre

TIME FOR ACTION: Adrian Lester, Kwame Kwei-Armah and the mayor of London Sadiq Khan joined representatives from the UK theatre industry for BECTU's diversity plan launch

ADRIAN LESTER, Kwame Kwei-Armah and the mayor of London Sadiq Khan came together with union BECTU and representatives from the UK theatre industry to launch a plan to tackle the lack of diversity in the theatre industry this morning.

The Theatre Diversity Action Plan is a practical step-by-step guide to facilitate real change within the industry.

So far more than 90 theatres across the UK have signed up to plan.

At the launch event held at The English National Opera, The London Coliseum, Lester recounted a story of how when he attended the BAFTA’s to collect an award on behalf of The Day After Tomorrow’s visual effects team, the camera panned to and focused on another black man in the audience instead of him. A mistake, which he used to highlight the lack of diversity both in front of and behind the camera in the film industry.

Speaking to The Voice, Lester said why he thought this guide would be a success where others have failed. He said: “This plan that they’ve published isn’t an observational data plan.

“What this does is it says, it’s like a computer programme, what it says is, OK, do this – it’s a series of actions – do this, and when you’re done doing that now do this and when you’re done doing that, take those results – do this.”


CALLING FOR PROGRESS: Actor Adrian Lester

“I came out of drama school at a time when people were occasionally around were still blacking up to play certain parts. Now that says, ‘yes, I’m an actor I’m supposed to be able to be whatever I want to be’ but I realised that that rule of actors saying, ‘I’m an actor, I can be whatever I want to be, I can pretend to be any kind of person’, that rule only seemed to apply to white actors. When I left drama school, if you were a black actor, the audience and the industry wasn’t saying, ‘OK, you can be whatever you want to be’, they were saying, ‘OK, can you just be black’.”

Among the points of action listed in the guide are directions for theatres to “check their equality policy”, a written document that sets out the organisation’s commitment to tackle discrimination and promote diversity; achieve and accurate assessment of their workforce and attract diverse applications.

The mayor of London, who is supporting the plan, said: “Most of us go to theatre, we watch movies, we use the media and it’s really important that the people we see reflect the society they are working in.”


SUPPORT: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan described the plan as vitally important

Khan told The Voice: “Whether you speak to Adrian [Lester] or Lenny Henry or Riz Ahmed or Kwame, all of them have got stories about how difficult it was for them to be successful for every Adrian Lester that’s successful, there are hundreds of black, Asian and ethnic minority falling by the wayside. It’s really important we realise that’s it’s not simply an issue that benefits the black, Asian and ethnic minority community, it benefits all of us. It’s mainstream issue and that’s why it’s important that this is a success.”

This isn’t the first initiative to address the lack of diversity in a sector of the creative industry and with the problems so stark, it’s unlikely to be the last. However, those behind it believe it will make a real impact.

“The reason I think it will be a success is because this action plan, the diverse action plan, has been drawn up by the trade union but in partnership with the theatres. What also gives me optimism is already 92 theatres have signed up across the country – 49 in London – many theatres across the country have signed up to this and that’s just the start, we’ve only launched it today,” Khan said.

He added that he hoped the public and theatre practitioners will be able to see the changes straight away.

Kwei-Armah, the artistic director of The Young Vic thanked BECTU for making inclusion and improving representation in theatre a priority.

He also spoke about the impact walking backstage and not seeing people that look like you has on aspiring creatives. He told the audience: “When you walk backstage and you don’t see anybody that looks like you, you think this isn’t for you.”

Kwei-Armah said this isn’t something that should be talked about in five years time. “We should be celebrating this as a watershed moment,” he said.

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