Julian Bird gives evidence at Performers' Alliance APPG Inquiry

Julian Bird gives evidence at Performers’ Alliance APPG Inquiry

Julian Bird, Chief Executive of SOLT and UK Theatre, gave evidence yesterday during the fourth session of a parliamentary inquiry into social mobility and ‘breaking the class ceiling’ in the creative sector.

The Performers’ Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group, which provides a forum for arts/culture policy in Parliament, is working alongside the trade unions of the Performers Alliance (Equity, the Musicians’ Union and the Writers Guild of Great Britain) in this inquiry.

Socio-economic background – while not classified as a ‘protected characteristic’ like gender, race and disability – has long been identified as a workforce issue in all parts of the industry. Lack of existing visible representation, affordability and sidelining of school arts engagement contribute to an unrepresentative workforce.

In addition, UK Theatre and SOLT spoke about ongoing policy developments, including the need to ensure that high quality placements for T Levels are accessible to young people across the UK, and for clear careers’ advice to be on offer to all in education.

Julian Bird discussed the remarkable work already being done to address these issues by theatres across the UK. He talked through some of the current SOLT and UK Theatre workforce projects such as offstage theatre careers initiatives Inspiring Future Theatre; workforce diversity network Stage Sight, youth careers platform Get Into Theatre; and a soon-to-be-launched theatre casting toolkit.

The importance of supporting and sustaining careers once entry paths have been established was also recognised – and the part played by mental health and wellbeing provision in maintaining a representative workforce.

To encourage a safe, supportive working environment for all in theatre and arts organisations, SOLT and UK Theatre have produced a downloadable handbook including principles to follow, legal and policy advice and other resources. We have also introduced a free, confidential 24-hour Theatre Helpline, offer a suite of Dignity at Work training, and work with Parents In Performing Arts to develop flexible working strategies.

Julian Bird said:

‘Theatre and the creative industries are booming, and their impact on our country’s cultural and economic standing cannot be overestimated – as well as their positive influence on our community life and wellbeing. To ensure the UK remains a world leader in creative talent, we must attract and nurture a skilled workforce that is reflective of modern society.                   

As an industry, we have a responsibility not only to help break the ‘class ceiling’ that so many people encounter, but to provide continued support, showing that a long-term creative career can be richly rewarding, stable and lucrative.’

Alongside Julian, the inquiry heard evidence from performers Stephanie Greer and Linden Walcott-Burton, and representatives from the University of Warwick, Equity and Parents & Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA).

Date Published: 24 July 2019

Inspiring Future Theatre, a joint initiative with the charity Education and Employers, inspires young people about offstage theatre careers, and encourages connections between schools and their local theatres. Over 1000 industry professionals across the UK have signed up as Ambassadors since it launched in July 2018, and on #InspiringFutureTheatre Day (3 July 2019), nearly 500 schoolchildren took part in workshops across 11 West End theatres.

TheatreCraft is the UK’s largest free offstage theatre careers event for 16 to 30-year-olds. Run by SOLT, Masterclass, Mousetrap Theatre Projects and the Royal Opera House, the annual event showcases a wide range of careers from stage management and producing to lighting and costume design, with workshops, a Marketplace of exhibiting arts organisations and education providers, networking and expert advice.

Stage Sight, created by lighting designer Prema Mehta and supported by SOLT and UK Theatre, is a collaborative network to help create a diverse offstage workforce. Member organisations and individuals are committed to implementing practical improvements to their workforce representation. The Stage Sight website acts as a showcase for inspiring projects and good practice, and a community for sharing ideas, resources, progress and learning.

Get Into Theatre is the UK’s first theatre careers resource, created by SOLT, UK Theatre, The Stage and the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation. The website provides an accessible and practical advice resource for young people and careers advisors, with emphasis on supporting underprivileged young people – especially those from ethnic minority backgrounds – less likely to have industry contacts to help them navigate their career path. 

Bridge The Gap is a training initiative by theatre producing charity Stage One, to support emerging producers in the first steps of their careers by providing the skillset needed for commercial theatre. The initiative has been developed to specifically cater to those identified are under-represented on Stage One’s current programmes, providing workshops, mentorship, masterclasses and access to theatre tickets.


More useful links:

Theatre Helpline – www.theatrehelpline.org

UK Theatre and SOLT’s guidance to encourage safer, more supportive working practices – uktheatre.org/theatre-industry/guidance-reports-and-resources/safe-and-supportive-working-practices

UK Theatre’s Dignity At Work Training – uktheatre.org/training-events/courses/dignity-at-work

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