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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

I'm not just black 30 days a year: How do we support the work of artists of colour to be shown all year round?

Pauline Mayers - 15 January 2017

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The title is self explanatory, and the concerns well documented. For the purposes of this report, I'll not go into the contexts some of which was discussed in the group. What I'm keen to get to is what actions could be taken to enable more diverse programming throughout the year. What follows is more a list of actions that could be taken. It's certainly not exhaustive and the conversation is an on-going one. Please note I'll use the acronym POC (people of colour).

Also note, I term the skin colour issue as “The Highlander Effect”. Based on the sci-fi movie of the same name, men with supernatural powers lop each others head off until only one is left standing. I view the skin colour issue in the arts as suffering from this idea there can be only one POC artist making work of note at any one time. And all other POC artists can not inhabit the same space.

1. Change one venue. Identifying a venue that lacks the voice of POC, and through discussions with said venue, target and discuss programming decisions over a sustained period of time. Other venues do watch what is happening and this can affect change i.e. there is to be a concerted effort to challenge programming and casting decisions at the Print Room to help to diversify the venue. A similar initiative targeted the RSC and achieved results.

2. Calling out programming decisions at venues that constrains the representation of artists of colour only to Black History Month.

3. How does the industry support artists of colour vs how can a POC artist make more noise about their work? There is the proviso of raising POC artists own visibility is not their responsibility.

4. White artists/programmers need to advocate for more POC artists, not just “The One”: The Highlander effect.

5. Venues could provide opportunities for POC artists to curate programmes/festivals in the venue.

6. Advocacy: ACE Changemakers programme is an example of this. Advocating for POC artists at all stages of their career, networking and creating wider connections.

7. Quotas for each individuals in the group to see POC work/get to know a POC artist.

8. Marketing: Mechanisms for finding out opportunities POC artists can access. this must go beyond the usual mailing list strategy. Invitations could be tailored in both language and accessibility, by going to where artists are.

9. Conversation not consultation! Everything starts with a conversation no matter the size of the organisation. Begin with the invitation and listen.

10. How do we create a system where POC artists feel they have access to gatekeeper? Programmers/venue managers could be physically available for discussions in a designated time and place in the first instance. Examples where such approaches have worked included West Yorkshire Playhouse scouting, making connections and having meetings in their cafe area (on-going), Theatre 503 rapid write response, BAC scratch programme.

11. Programme-led change with artist led change intervention. Artists to develop relationships with programmers by taking a programmer/venue manager to a POC artists' for advocacy and relationship building. "Let me take you to a show by my friend' in essence being ambassadors for POC work. A theatre version of ‘MySingleFriend.com’ (positive programming, everyone has a right to be heard). Eclipse's Enablers scheme was discussed.

The above is literally a starting point for discussion and action. If anyone would like to discuss further, contact me via twitter @emergentp or via DM on this website. Let's see how this develops…


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