Amanda Huxtable is a Theatre Director and Change Maker. On 17 June 2019 she gave a 'lightning talk' at the Theatre and Touring Symposium 2019... here is that talk.
"Ok so hello, what would you say if you had the chance to speak with a large group of the Theatre Industry for a few minutes?
Opportunities and Momentum
I want to start by first acknowledging how I got this opportunity in the first place.
I’m stood here in front of you because a Black woman introduced me to a white woman. The Black woman is my friend, colleague and fellow Change Maker, who has an amazing mind called Suzanne Alleyne and the white woman is called Cassie Chadderton Head of UK Theatre. Cassie and I were introduced at the No Boundaries Conference where I was co- hosting at Hull Truck Theatre as Associate Artist and Change Maker. This happened in 2017, the year of the City of Culture. From there onwards, up until this very moment, Cassie has invested time and supported my work. Cassie travelled to see my work, commissioned my writing and invited me to speak and be heard. It was not a one-off, we built on a momentum of change. Taken action that has made a difference and I’m pleased to be introduced to you today to share my thoughts on our industry.
My Art and Activism combined
So I’m a Black Female Director based in the North of England… I have some things to say...
I see the UK Theatre industry as family. Which is tricky when some of the Theatre industry may only see me as the help - if they see me at all.
I am not the help. I am a Theatre Director who has been working really hard to ensure my work demonstrates my politics and my core values. I’ve seen too many of my peers, or cousins as it were, have to choose between their art and their Activism for me there is no distinction. What I do is who I am.
I want to acknowledge all those in this room who are doing the work, making the changes & adjustments required to represent our nation in the 21st century and not just doing the bare minimum either. There’s been a lot of hard work to get to this baseline but this baseline is a starting point not an end. We build from here.
For those who are struggling to get to the baseline many inside and outside this room are pushing forward with or without you.
Here from my circle of understanding, I want to give thanks including Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway Director of ADF (Artistic Directors of the Future) who has championed and actioned in the leadership of our Theatre venues.
Prema Mehta Lighting Designer who has taken the time on behalf of our industry to improve opportunities in our technical teams.
Dawn Walton, Artistic Director of Eclipse Theatre who has given us Revolution Mix and put long overdue plays and talent on our stages.
Kerry Michael, Theatre Director MBE who told it like it was and called it by its name when it comes to race and Theatre. Racism. He started the leadership domino effect in London by stepping aside so others could step up.
Jess Thom, superhero friend and colleague shared the social model of disability at the recent IETM held at Hull Truck in the spring.
Stella Kanu, Chief Executive of Oval House Theatre who has led not one but two events championing Black Female Directors in the UK.
Those further out of my circle but have no doubt I stand with them. They have worked hard, have high expectations and are both disappointed and disgusted by what they found when the entered the Theatre Industry in the past 3 years or so and since then they have taken action in the form of works like Black Theatre Ticket Project from Tobi Kyeremateng and The Upsetters Marcus Bernard. They are not here to play or to take the tranquillising drug of gradualism.
So here is what I want to say.
Leadership and Responsibility
Right at the forefront of change for me is race in terms of leadership and decision making in the U.K. and worldwide. We each have a responsibility to consider outside of our own lived experience. I actively consider race, gender, class, as well as disability and all the other protected characteristics as part of our legal obligations and moral responsibility respecting the basic human rights of people.
Sad or Fab we choose.
Each and every one of those groups can either be seen as having groups within groups, fighting one another, histories that are either hidden, ignored or disrespected, under resourced, never built upon in the first place and therefore are missing in action...or the same said groups have a rich exciting ecology, using language that is self defining, considered, understood and used. That against all the odds remains strong in identity and hopeful through our continued fierce and fabulous existence.
Both experiences are true.
Over the years together with my theatre family, I have experienced many things, I have contracted people from a wide range of lived lives, commissioned rarely told stories and encouraged audiences to feel at home in places they paid for but have rarely visited much less hung out like it was home.
Who are we fighting?
I wanted to say a little something about who we think we are fighting...this hidden ‘they’ who is rarely ever named. Although I don’t use the Male, pale, stale and frail phrase because of you know...dignity at work and all that. I get it I’m in the middle of my career and age so I see who I’m dealing with and it’s usually a white man with a beard but not all of them have blocked my way and it hasn’t just been older white men who make poor judgments, poor decisions or contracted people and artists from their own limited view of life.
My current concerns
Whether we are talking region to region, theatre building to theatre building, theatre organisations or independents. There is a disconnect to each other.
There are no or low expectations of abilities and interests and that’s just of the white boys
Assumptions are made about people and places, therefore perceptions and realities are growing wider
Ever increasing credentials and abilities needed to complete the simplest of tasks
Ever decreasing contacts and associates. Creating social segregation and silos.
Trains fare costs from the North.
Look time is running out in so many ways so before my time is done with you here I just want to share with you a story about my first Theatre gig. I could have chosen to tell you a story at any level of my career, this one is an entry level one.
Take from it what you will.
So I’m 17 and at the Greenwich Book Festival and I’m doing my placement as an A-level Theatre studies student. I’m so excited because I get to run the library corner under the Cutty Sark.
I don’t mind the bear suit, it’s okay because I get to tell stories all day long to cute little kids from all walks of life. I get to try out all my voices and we have a good time. I’m dedicated, I’m working hard, I’m loving it, I’m looking at the kids' eyes shining!
Anyways it gets to the end of the day and I take the bear head off and I notice some of the kids are delighted like proper excited to see me, whilst others clearly have something else going on...a flash of fear, disappointment even anger. Listen it could be that I was such a good bear that they just didn’t expect a human being to be working the suit, although to my knowledge bears don’t talk...it could be that they were racist kids brought up my racist parents who couldn’t recognise a Black Southeast London voice if it shouted at them in the face (this was back in the day before all UK children sounded like a Jamaican South East Londoner) they and their families may have believed that only white people read books and can dress up and have fun.
I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’m not in that bear suit now, I’m a long way from being 17, but I’ll never forget how it made me feel.
I will forever question and challenge those who question and challenge me and people like me's existence and continue to be delighted in the eyes of the children, their families, our audiences who delight in themselves reflected in the stories we choose to tell.
Whether me or the likes of me is wearing a bear suit, running the show or a theatre building, those two types of reactions still remain the same. It’s either fear, disappointment and anger or delight.
For those of you like me who continue at pace towards the change we’ve been looking for for a lifetime, thank you and keep going. Do what you can from where you are, it matters.
One final lesson I learned about myself that day was that when it came to telling stories and protecting my corner, myself and those in my charge I would need to be so much more than your average bear. We all do. Good luck.
I’ve only had a few minutes with you here so you can reach me outside in the foyer where we can build or bounce from here or on Twitter @amandahuxtable to continue towards momentous action.
Thank you for listening."