We are writing this at a significant and tumultuous period in our history. Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre wanted to respond to recent events in a considered way. On 2 June 2020 we participated in #BlackOutTuesday on our social media channels. On 8 June 2020 we announced that we would be working in partnership with Black, Asian and minority ethnic arts leaders, represented by Amanda Parker of Inc Arts. On 9 June we launched our new online resource promoting initiatives and companies that improve the representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people within the British performing arts sector, both on and offstage.
Our industry has traditionally been dominated by white people in its workforce and on its Boards, and is still run and staffed in the main by white people. In lockdown, this fact is reinforced by the lack of people of colour on the many Zoom meetings that we are participating in. Things are changing - see the recent list of signatories by people of colour holding senior leadership positions in arts organisations - but there is clearly more work to be done.
Currently the sector is facing huge challenges to its very existence, and SOLT and UK Theatre are focussed on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in collaboration with the sector. As part of this work we will do all we can to embed issues around diversity and inclusivity within our government lobbying and our sector recovery planning. We recognise the work being done by the #PullUpOrShutUp movement to improve Black representation in British theatre, and we look forward to engaging with them in the coming weeks.
One way in which SOLT and UK Theatre can contribute immediately is to use our platform to draw attention to the many organisations, initiatives and resources that exist to champion inclusivity and celebrate Black British theatre, as well as theatre by British East Asian, South Asian and other minority ethnic communities.
As a trade body whose members are theatre owners, producers, makers and supporters we have chosen to focus on Business-to-Business resources that are specific to our sector and that will help our sector learn and grow as arts leaders, administrators and practitioners. Some of these initiatives have been supported by SOLT & UK Theatre through funding, resourcing, and promotion. Much of our recent work on developing the future theatre workforce originated from the Theatre Workforce Review in 2017.
Other organisations have provided excellent links to resources to help people better understand the concepts of systemic racism and white privilege (for example, on Whatsonstage).
Our communities are made up of people with different skin tones, different backgrounds, and with different stories to tell. If those stories are not represented on our stages then we need as a sector to ask ourselves why people who do not feel represented onstage should give us their time to come through our doors and pay us their money to buy a ticket. If we are not embodying inclusive values throughout our organisations then by default our organisations are exclusive.
It will take a lot of work to remove systemic racism from our industry. Any change is hard. It will take time. It will require asking challenging questions and giving honest answers. It will feel uncomfortable. It may require education on our parts, and coming to terms with new ideas, new approaches, new ways of seeing and doing. But to make change we must face the discomfort head on and educate ourselves. As Minda Harts says: ‘Lean into your courage and push aside your caution. No-one benefits when allies are cautious.’
We urge all our members, and the wider theatre sector, and especially white people, to read these resources, see the work of the companies featured (especially any online content), and to familiarise ourselves with work and voices and writing we may be unfamiliar with.
Given the current crisis our sector is facing, in the months and years to come we cannot afford to exclude any groups from our theatres. We cannot afford to exclude them morally, and we cannot afford to exclude them financially.
It is now time we reached out to those we have not previously engaged with. We recommend that our members, and the wider sector, take action. Think about what you can do differently today. Start conversations that should have happened years ago. Learn from past mistakes, and apologise for them. Be brave. Take risks. Prepare to fail. Allow discomfort. Enjoy learning about life from those whose lives are different from our own, and find ways of telling their stories. And embrace a new way of living and working that includes all members of society. Theatre means something to many people. Let’s use this opportunity to make Theatre meaningful to everyone.
Date Published: 10 June 2020