Theatre is predominantly western tradition, why is assumed that people from other cultures should want to join in?

Convener(s): Nadine Ishani

Participants: Richard 

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

First I wanted to clarify the question.  The people here at D&D have a broader definition of what theatre is and can be than most people in this country.  So for those people coming into the UK and being confronted by these perceptions, they may feel that their own traditions of performance and storytelling might be incompatible with the more common/traditional perceptions of what theatre is.  So I wondered why it is assumed that they should want to join in with what is happening.  Bearing in mind that people go to live in different countries for a variety of different reasons; a lot of people come to the UK for a ‘better’ life, for money etc… Their motivations might be different.  A lot of ethnic communities have grown up across the UK out of the desire to have something familiar and I feel that these people are more likely to want to express themselves in a language/format that is more familiar to them.  As time passes and more people are born and raised with an understanding and a familiarity with more traditions, this will change.  The idea that theatre preaches has been raised in other groups – maybe this is what concerns me.

This is not to say that interesting and valuable work is not being done in a variety of settings and places, work which brings people together: there is a lot happening.  There are huge opportunities here for collaboration, learning and development but is this something that needs space to grow?  The UK as a whole has been an immigrant society for over 2000 years and has influences of dozens of other cultures within it.  Culture is fluid and changing.  When given a ‘space’ to work in, people from other nations might not chose, at first, to present work that would traditionally be read as being theatre but this may develop/emerge over time as relationships and understandings develop.

The idea of aspirational models was discussed in that it can speed up this process by making connections between minority groups/individuals and the theatre through recognition and association which can then lead to collaboration and potentially integration.  This led into a discussion about positive discrimination because at some point someone has to be given a job/part/position due in part to their background (depending on the role and the other applications, ability may or may not come into this as much as might be hoped).  Reading the literature for what would be perceived, by most, as a training programme to encourage more minority ethnic people into the theatre (arts management), I was surprised to find that they weren’t really aiming to ‘train’ people.  They were trying to get people who might not go for those jobs normally; to give them then opportunity to have a go and see if they liked it and wanted to make a career out of it.  There are questions that arise from that – what exactly is the selection criteria??  Aside from that, the theatre world is a competitive world regardless of a persons background – ethnic, social or otherwise – so how do you justify positive discrimination without excluding others?  People with mild disabilities and mixed racial background ‘play the game’ and tick the boxes because it might help – they still work hard and are still committed.

I think the main problem comes back to the perception of theatre in the wider UK context – a whole range of topics being discussed this weekend a relevant to this.  But at present there is a large proportion of the general public who don’t understand what is being done by practitioners today, does it not the follow that communicating this to people with different languages will be more difficult.

There is nothing wrong with wanting people to engage or join in but you can’t make people do anything – they will do it in their own time.

NB: when using the word language, I don’t just mean a spoken language, I mean something more overarching that includes traditions, relationships, structures, beliefs etc…

Please feel free to add thoughts: