Simon Ly, 26 January 2013

In attendance: Simon Ly, Sandra Leong, Jennifer Lim, Jennifer Tan, Erica Miller,

Dawn Reid, Geoff Williams, Tom Morton-Smoth, Solene Marie, Emma Yap, German

Munoz, Micha Colombo, Monica Wauffo Kelly (apologies if any of these names have

been mis-spelled!)

Is there actually a demand for minority theatre or are we just pretending? I asked this

question because I wanted to hear opinions in what I felt would be an open-minded,

honest environment. As I see it, the theatre scene is overcrowded, with everyone

searching for their own unique selling point. There also seems to be a significant

movement of people who want theatre to be more diverse and to represent the

country's changing identity - so why is this not happening? Are people simply paying

lip service, or is there an actual demand for increased representation from and of

marginalised communities?

What follows are the themes that emerged from our discussion:

Definition of the label ‘minority’

As a group, we struggled with this as everyone had a different understanding of the

term. Should it be based on cultural, gender, lifestyle roles? As a British-born Chinese

person, I adopted the “race” perspective but of course what was discussed could

easily be transposed to other frames of reference. Broadly speaking, we defined this

as anything outside the mainstream, typically white middle-class theatre.

Many in the group shuddered when they hear the word “minority” because they have

come to associate it with a poorer standard or work that is unworthy. This should not

be the case.

Quality and representation

Of course, everyone agreed that only the best theatre should make it to the stage, and

that nothing should be put on for the sake of representation. Putting an emphasis on

say, an all-East Asian or all-black play can sometimes turn people off. The story

should still sing! But what was interesting was the idea that theatres predominantly

funded by the taxpayer should have a duty to better represented the make-up of this

country - this doesn't seem to be the case! Putting on more plays that are either

ethnically themed, produced or cast would introduce a new audience to the theatre.

The potential is huge.


Audiences need to be cultivated. Plays cannot be put on to tick a box on a theatre

programme as a one-time thing. In order for it to be cultivated, it must be followed

through, so people are aware that it is happening. This involves dedicated and diverse

marketing techniques and genuinely connecting with the local audience. I know this

requires a fundamental shift in attitude and can carry a great risk but I think it is

something theatre needs to do in order to remain relevant.

It is not just the content or whether there are enough ethnic faces are on stage. The

experience extends further to making people feel welcome - so they are not reined in

by expectations of how theatregoers should behave or react. The audience should be

free to express itself. I am a firm believer that the theatres should represent their local

area and if they refuse to adjust then they will die. The makeup of the local audience is

changing so theatre needs to do the same.

Access to the powers that be

Many in the group raised the a more practical issue, citing poor access to decision

makers such as artistic directors and funders.

Decision makers need to be educated and engaged. They do not make up some

inhuman evil racist entity that makes decisions based on spite and hate. They may live

in a world where it is easier to make the decisions that they do, ticking boxes through

one-off minority-focused programming rather than properly embracing change. We

need to make them understand that we need to represented and that we are capable

of being great writers, producers, directors and performers. I feel that above the

Twitter storms and online furore, the decision makers must be talked to and educated

so they should not fear in investing in us. We are not that big a risk. We need to

engage them, bring them to events like D&D and see the interest and passion that

people have for theatre away from the mainstream. Whether the desire is there to do

this is a different question. Is there enough will among gatekeepers? Clearly there is

not otherwise it would have happened already.

If you feel I've missed any points, email me at [email protected]