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Devoted & Disgruntled: What are we REALLY going to do about Race and Diversity in UK Theatre?

The things I learnt & the things I heard- Race & Diversity.

Mitesh Soni - 28 February 2014

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The learning & The listening:

I was lucky enough to attend the D&D session on 27th Feb – What are we going to do about Race & Diversity in UK theatre?

From my viewpoint, here are a few brief things I learnt, & heard:

There is a collective voice out there, within theatre that is one of hope. Hope in the sense that things will change. I’d never realized how strong and united that voice was until yesterday.

Session 1: 12 Angry Men- where does the buck stop with casting?

In the first session-I heard fantastic debates around who makes the decision when it comes to allowing a play to be “blind cast”. Where does the buck ultimately stop? Director, caster, producer or writer?

We live in a society that is incredibly diverse, and surely theatre should reflect that. Changes are coming, but it’s a lot slower than we want. People see actors of race going abroad to get work, esp. the US—but when the work is actually more readily available out there- then why the hell not? Surely in the UK we should be retaining and growing the incredible talent we have.
I heard someone say, that if you ask a person to think of an actor, they will generally think of a Caucasian actor. Ethnic actors tend to be seen as “other” – fillers. Certainly I was alarmed to hear that, but sadly the more I think of it, the more it rings true.

What has to happen for these changes to occur? Personally I’d like to think if we had more writers of ethnicity, then maybe that would make a difference. However, if “people” are not accepting ethnic writers’ work unless it conforms to the ethnic stereotyping, then that just pushes us further back.

Session 2: What did you do at school to get you where you are today?

When it comes to education- it’s quite clear- Arts is as important in the education system, and just as valid, as any subject.

Through discussion, it was interesting to learn that as actors who went to school, and then into training, your imagination sort of gets stifled. At school you’re encouraged to be as creative as you like; the world is your oyster. But as you go through, you get more and more pigeonholed. In my experience, spending my training in shows with a turban on my head. (Incidentally I’m not Sikh)

Luckily for me, that was a bit of a driving force to want to dispel the stereotype. That as an actor I can play a part that doesn’t require a cod Indian accent, or a funny head shake.
But ultimately, if you’re learning as a child that you could play anything in a play, then this should be encouraged in drama school training. Of course, there are obvious restrictions, but race & diversity shouldn’t be one. I’m sure it will happen, but again, just not as fast as people want or like it to occur.

Overheard/In Conclusion:

Certainly through most of the day, I heard some rather encouraging comments that have inspired and pushed me to want to do more.

However, I did also hear comments about people saying that they were championing things to change for black actors in the industry, and that some who had been networking, hadn’t actually talked to any black person as yet.

Race & Diversity means everyone. There is no monopoly on that term to any one race- its all, Black, White, East & South Asian. Let’s be careful not to make it just about one.

Ultimately there is far more strength in numbers.

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