27 February 2014

Devoted & Disgruntled: What Are We REALLY Going To Do About Race And Diversity In UK Theatre?

Clore Ballroom, Southbank Centre, London, SE1 8XX

The Southbank Centre

10:30AM - 5:30PM

Facilitated by Lemn Sissay

An invitation from Tyrone Huggins, actor-manager & playwright:

At nine years old I realised I wanted to be an actor, by the start of University in the seventies I was well on my way. Professionally I began in the adventurous world of devised work in the revolutionary theatre of the eighties. Now, over forty-five years later, my work is still corralled in the contentious world of Black theatre.

Discussions about race have been permanently on the agenda of black theatre makers for decades, and the terms describing what I do has journeyed from Black theatre; Black and Asian theatre; Ethnic Minority theatre; Black and Minority Ethnic theatre; Culturally Diverse theatre; BME theatre; and currently BAME theatre.

Many reports have been written about bame theatre issues, at least 55 of them since 1987, but very little actually changes. Why? Because of short-term thinking? The three-year funding cycle; the shortening arms-length principle between government and arts development; the disproportionate investment between Regions and London, between established and foundling, between small scale and national? I look at the example of Sustained Theatre. Conceived of as a ten-year programme in one of these many reports, it identified five agenda areas: Archives, Critical Debate, Leadership, International connections, and Spaces – specifically development spaces. Cut short after six years, its intention was fatally undermined by changed economic realities and a move to harness arts practice to the shackles of instrumental value. I realised there was a pattern underlying all these decisions that works like this: ask a group of people for the solution to their ills, deliver to them things they did not request, then fault them for their failure to achieve these imposed solutions. This pattern is embedded in British culture.

So where do all these reports and initiatives leave us? It’s left me with a lot of questions:

Is it pointless to continue to discuss issues of diversity?

Why bother to take the complaints of black theatre to an industry that has mastered the art of inertia?

Given the literary core of the British theatre aesthetic, is it not an exercise in futility to image an equitable sharing of resources for alternative theatre forms and practice?

Isn’t it true that when we talk about race we’re really talking about skin colour politics?

Why talk about race anyway, shouldn’t the focus be on excellent work?

If the Creative Case for Cultural Diversity holds any truth, why is it not at the heart of our creative industries?

If Black Asian and Minority Ethnic audiences don’t turn out for theatre in sufficient numbers to support its economics, why spend time or money worrying about them?

Does the digital world hold any opportunities for diversity or race in the performing arts?

Those are my questions, but what are yours? What do you think needs to be talked about? What action do you think needs to happen? What are the solutions that no one has yet thought of?

To be honest I am bored of hearing my own arguments and I’m bored of top-down, committee-led attempts to make a difference. I think we have to bust this thing open. “They” (whoever “they” are) are never going to fix this. It’s down to us. To me and you. Which is why I’m inviting you to this Open Space event. No experts, no committees, just the people who care enough about this urgent issue, in a room together, doing the work.

Booking for this event has now closed.