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D&D Roadshow 2013 - BRIGHTON

Where did all the Working Class audiences go?

Mark Sands - 9 September 2013

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A lively discussion! This summary is a mix of conclusions, comments and even more questions…!

Context: Image of WC has changed. Once seen as the foundation of the country; a strong community with a sense of identity and voice. This has been somewhat eroded and demonized. Are there less working class audiences and people working in the industry? In this room, is art being made predominantly by the middle-class? Has theatre become elitist? How did WC audiences become more marginalized?

Live performance used to be more available to WC audiences e.g. Music Hall where it was enjoyed by all classes. Back in Shakespeare, all classes of audience experienced the same performance. In the last 100 years, has theatre becoming a place for an elite, mostly white middle-class audience?

Some of the barriers to WC people going to theatre: type of theatre on offer, ticket price, limited income and choices where to spend money, intimidation of venues, history of being elitist (at times racist, sexist, homophobic), opportunities to enter the profession, opportunities early on in school and college, barriers to education (whether financial or from encouragement from family and peers), cultural identity and class expectation, feeling of not belonging (venues and arts sector “it's not for me”), relevance to their lives, lack of positive role models and WC artists making work, “Will I feel stupid?”, fame culture through X factor etc. Feeling an outsider is not always a good feeling (either because of class, education, the way a person dresses etc).

Some of the solutions: taking theatre outside of the traditional venues, active outreach programmes, accessible ticket prices, promoting the positive merits of live performance as opposed to passive access at home (TV, film), offering means for WC people to enter the industry, build confidence, build that relationship over time and act as a bridge between community and venues (e.g. a teacher taking students to £10 tickets at the National; an artist doing a localized theatre project).

Various examples of theatres actively working with less engaged communities (National Theatre of Scotland & Wales, Royal Court etc). Is this happening in the vibrant Brighton arts scene?

Excellent art can still be experienced at home through films and TV drama? Has technology meant we now expect our entertainment to come to us and it's become a more passive experience rather than a social one of actively going out to live performance?

Finances are a big driver. Paying for training, tickets, private classes, etc. and entering an industry with little financial guarantees.

If you've never experience something then how do you know if you like it or not? Opportunity to experience it locally, in schools etc a key.

Needs a combination of things to create the right conditions in which a spark is ignited in someone traditionally disengaged. Are there too many barriers coinciding at the same time (benefit cuts, downgrading of arts curriculum, high ticket prices, social challenges) that have led to reduced opportunities for WC to engage with the arts?

Are arts activities too disparate and lack a central focus (e.g. a central arts venue that all communities identify with) and are things happening in isolation and require a connected, joined up approach? Is good art just good art and genres can't be defined by class?
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