How can we be inclusive without diverse programming?

21st August 2020

A statistic I read back in January really sticks in my mind: ‘61% of artistic directors in 2019 are white men’

This stat comes from research carried out between 2009 - 2019 by The Stage into the country’s 50 highest-funded theatres, which includes the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare and the Young Vic.

As part of this research, the publication also stated: "there has also been slow progress for women in top jobs, with only two more female artistic directors in 2019 than there were in 2009". This was a jump from 14 to 16!

It has been the case for many years that women, individuals with disabilities and people of colour are underrepresented within this role, but living in the 21st Century I hoped things would have improved.

2018 and 19 were exciting times for theatre when a multitude of fresh, young Artistic Directors came on the scene. 

In 2018 we saw Kwame Kwei-Armah become Artistic Director at the Young Vic.

A year later Lynette Linton joined the Bush Theatre, and Charlotte Bennett and Katie Posner who took over as joint artistic directors at Paines Plough. 

I saw this as a turning point for the industry bringing in new ideas and visions from another generation.

Our role as Artistic Directors is about listening to our community, finding out what it is our audience wants, ensuring there’s engaging and inclusive programming, nurturing new writing and new artists and more. As story tellers, it is our responsibility to tell people’s narrative honestly and create work that reflects the society we live in.

I’ve said in a previous blog, that once we regain some normality, we need to start taking risks with what we put on, but in a different and exciting way. For example, writing and producing plays that react to how our world is now, but from different viewpoints, will resonate with people from all backgrounds and invite more people into theatre.

Afterall, theatre is for everyone and the more people we can attract the better. Right?

How can we be diverse and appealing to all if our programming is from only a white male perspective? We want to hear from other audiences i.e. vulnerable groups. We all have stories to tell. 

In my mind, this is the reason why there is a huge lack of diversity on and off stage in both programming and acting. There is a deep pool of talent that is not getting seen and individuals not getting the opportunities that they truly deserve. We need to keep pushing for an equal workplace.

We have a real problem with representation. The industry knows about it, but it’s not being scrutinised enough. This is something that needs to be addressed quickly.

Sadly, the Coronavirus has put a stop to us pushing forward. Many regional and community theatres, where there is better representation of women, disabilities and people of colour are having to close due to the impact of the virus which results in these individuals suffering the most. Without this support or opportunity many are having to leave the industry.

We need to make our industry more diverse and inclusive before we can expect our audience to be more diverse. How can we produce plays that appeal to different backgrounds if we don’t have the right people cast in those roles both on stage and behind the curtain?

That is why it is so important to feature these underrepresented groups in our programming when theatre comes alive again. The industry needs to be committed to rise to the challenge and take this vital stance to create this much needed positive change.

Michelle Terry, Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, puts it perfectly: "Diversity is not an artistic direction, it is a moral, civil and legal one". There is still so much work to be done.