What is culturally diverse about Theatre?

Convener(s): Anouk Mishti

Participants: Bindya Solanki (Actress) Jean St Clair, Alicia, Annie Fitzmorris (Coal theatre Co), Amy (Actress). Elinor, Minakshi (writer), Lynette (Mouth to Mouth), Gege (actress), Kate and Jan (Jean St Clair signers)

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Identity and culture; is colour diverse or is it the experience, the story, the person brings to the role. Just because there is an Asian/black/Chinese person on stage doesn’t necessarily mean that the show is diverse. It’s also the experience that the person brings with them that attributes to the diversity.

UK is quite accent-ish. If you speak in an RP accent it denotes that you are better educated then someone with a Bristol-ian (for example) accent.

Gege asked if colour blind casting is a joke. Colour blind casting in theatre is better then in TV/Film.

Gege: Why do I get pulled up by casting directors who are looking for a half Scottish/half Arabian girl, do a fantastic audition, and the hear that I don’t look half Scottish/half Arabian enough?

Lynette: There’s not a lot of diversity in Ireland. It doesn’t address the political climate. Programming is not very culturally diverse.

Who cares about culturally diversity? Are only people who are culturally diverse? 

Annie Fitz: Working as a performer you prefer working where the role is specific to your culture or where it is not specific to your culture.

It’s important to be included properly.

How do you bring cultural diversity into casting? Where are all the disabled people?

Jean S: Coronation St asked me to audition for a character that is deaf. So when I got the brief through, I read it and it said “Deaf women who can speak well”. This, I thought, isn’t being diverse.

Anouk: Grace Theatre Company put on a production of Sarah Kane’s Blasted, and it was amazing. The casting was very diverse but it didn’t matter as it was the story that came through. You didn’t notice that a character was in a wheelchair.

Is there not enough writing out there for disabled people? Is that why we don’t see many in stage.

BS: The RSC & the National have quite diverse casting and they are mainstream theatre companies.

Amy: The Arts Council are arbitrators of what is culturally diverse. They decide what and who is culturally diverse. Cultural diversity when trying to get funding is all about ticking the right boxes.

How do you encourage work that is about culture in mainstream theatre?

Disabled performers fail to fall in the diverse box. For the arts council diversity is other cultures/nationalities, not the disabled. Arts Council very interested in ethnic women’s theatre.

Diversity is a fashion. Disabled people need to be in fashion to get funding!

Is our culture/diversity invisible or visible?

Theatre is more diverse then TV/Film. What can we celebrate from cultural diversity?

Is there cultural diversity in cultural specific projects?

The cultural diversity in Ireland is now being represented in the new writing that is emerging. Not everyone in Ireland is white Irish and Catholic.

Cultural Diversity is a reflection on society.

With theatre it is possible to engage people on a deeper level. You can have a white sibling with a black sibling, without there being a story to connect there races. Theatre audiences will accept this as a convention. Theatre deals with reality on a deeper level.

It’s in out self interest to embrace and enthusiastically follow this. When people watch theatre they engage on a deeper level.

In drama school is it the fact that it is more difficult to train someone who is disabled therefore there are less disabled performers out there with the skills to take on a professional production.

Theatre and the arts are a small section of society. But we still need to be advocates of cultural diversity.