Are we all too white and middle class?          

Convener(s): Sara Kewly

Participants: Suzy Harvey, Alyn Gwyndat, Mark Coultice, Catherine Hoffman, Ann Wilson, Rachel Donovan, Katherine Maxwell-Cook and a few others

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: Er… and a lot more questions…

Yes we are! Well, those of us in London often are… Well in most places… maybe not so much so in regional theatre. In Cumbria my experience is that we all love theatre and we’re all skint, not all middle-class.

Is there something about your education or circumstances that makes you think that you have a right to be involved in theatre more than your class or colour?

How are we defining class? Is class to do with ethos? If you want to work hard and earn money- even if you’re a banker- does this make you working class? Is it the aspiration that makes you middle class?

We confuse class and education. Theatre imposes a set of rules – ie whether to laugh or not- so that people feel there are a set of rules, even when there aren’t. There is a perception of theatre and its conventions that is keeping people out of theatre. Do mainly tourists go to west-end theatre?


We need to decode theatre by making the inherent codes and behavioural patterns explicit rather then relying on culturally engrained assumptions to increase access to theatre. If you walked into a betting shop, would you know how to behave? This may provide an insight into how some outside the community feel when they enter the theatre for the first time…

There is a distinction to be made between those who have been to and don’t like theatre and those who have never encountered it.


Should there be lessons in how to behave when going to the theatre like:

  • Don’t be afraid
  • The point of it is you
  • You (or your parents) probably paid for this building so please treat it as yours

Ways to make people more welcome in theatres (some examples from a theatre manager)

  • if someone is late, all staff were briefed to say “how lovely to see you”
  • They had a member of staff on the door at all times
  • There was a mission to make the audience member relax to be ready to receive the show in the minute or so you have from someone entering to the building to them entering the auditorium.


How to increase accessibility to work?

Making pricing more affordable, relevance of subject matter and practically extending a welcome.

Looking at form: the increase of cabaret, burlesque and variety… is this less intrinsically middle-class? Or is it middle-class playing at working class? 

Commercialism: just doing things that appeal to as wide a range as possible, doing work that gets as many people in as you can…

A theatre in Slovakia went into a club full of railway workers and did shows til 9pm, then got chucked out so the club could be a club: is this a good model in bringing new audiences?

The pub/fringe theatre dilemma: this is rarely about audience and rarely a commercial venture. It’s a shame, the divide between the pub-goers and the local community and the theatre community seems vast: is there a way forward here? 

In Cumbria they operate an annual pub theatre festival performing 5 minute scripts with 2 characters around different pubs. This feels like an open invitation, there is a warmth of invitation, rather than generating an experience of exclusivity and feeling like you’re not ‘in the club’.

Is it right to make audience driven theatre? Should we listen more to market forces?

Is it to do with space? Should there be more theatre in non – theatre spaces? There should be accessible work both in and out of theatre buildings. We need to make less value judgements on different ways of working- we’re all in one family and all have different and valuable ways of working. Does there need to be more  street and building based companies working in collaboration?

Can our form withstand a loud, responsive audience? Do you have a pre-show announcement with some tips for behaviour?! 

Is there enough of an impetus for theatres to look for new audiences if they are full?



Is this ok?

You have to make the work that you believe to push the art and the form itself- people walked out of ‘Waiting for Godot’ but it was innovative, philosophical and important as work

Elitism isn’t financial

How to balance ‘the artist with a vision’ and an audience desires



PANTO! Good panto is subversive, about real experiences, although there is an anti-panto snobbery. Panto often brings audiences together. 

Is it about geography? Is it about tapping into pre-existent community? Is it a middle-class thing to trot across town to a theatre? Traditional non-theatre goers may not have the money or the inclination to traverse London for theatre. Do we need a theatre bus?! 

Hackney Empire, Tricycle, Stratford East – all have under-taken pro-active artistic policies to reach local communities and educational strategies. Not perfect, but a good start. Young Vic give free/subsidised tickets to local audience.



- Encouraging/promoting diversity

  • in your own practice
  • in your audience strategy
  • To engage with where you live and work and potentially to make work that is relevant to and engages with your local community 
  • Take your audience development seriously
  • In general- act locally