What I've Learnt: Time for Change

What I've Learnt: Time for Change

Stephanie Street (credit Valéry Schatz)

 

By Stephanie Street, co-founder and trustee of Act for Change, actor and playwright

Date Published: 05 January 2017
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Industry attitudes to diversity need to change

Act for Change has taught me an enormous amount. In my first few professional years as an actor, I bent myself in two to please people, any people, who may one day have the tiniest chance of giving me a job. Trying to be all things to all people in positions of power in our industry often made me lose sight of who I was: a mixed-race woman who was never going to be cast as Juliet.

The might of our campaign comes from the sheer numbers of people who are now standing up, as a collective to the biases against minorities, both conscious and unconscious, that run from the top down through our industry. So many gatekeepers to theatres employ only versions of themselves, meaning minority creatives start the race into this industry several miles behind our white, middle-class, able-bodied male counterparts. The under-commissioning of diverse writing means that the white, usually male narrative can be classed as ‘state of the nation'. this distresses me to the core.

Leave a legacy, however small

AFC has also taught me a lot about legacy. I don’t mean that in any grandiose way; more the fact that our work isn’t just for personal gratification. It leaves an imprint, however tiny, on the shape of things to come. For example, I decided a while ago that I no longer want to audition for any parts that smell of ‘token ethnic’; I don’t want to contribute to that kind of perception of BAME actors and the people we represent in narratives.

Change things at grass roots level

Our next public event will focus on Diversity in Training for the Industry, tackling the early stages of career development. It is terrifying looking at the current political landscape and considering these backwards leaps being taken in our civil liberties. More than ever we need the arts to hold up a mirror and challenge this reductive, regressive view of Britain. And this means our training institutions need to be reaching out to and empowering the broadest possible range of future creatives. Act for Change is also working with UK Theatre and Tonic Theatre to make the theatre casting process more open. In November we’re holding a Diversity in Casting day with leading figures in the casting process, to address the challenges that are preventing our stages from being fully diverse.

Take risks

More than anything, Act for Change has taught me to take risks. We need to risk running theatres differently, to change the way we find and employ creatives, to challenge what we think are the ‘norms’ of our theatre practice. I am proud to be taking a risk, standing up for what I believe in, and in the process challenging some of the people who hold the keys to the gates… People who may now never employ me (but that’s ok because there’s the hope that those who fill their shoes might!) We must take risks as theatre makers - just running with the status quo is not good enough.

 

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