Let’s get straight to the point: Theatre is an excruciatingly white industry, epitomising the middle-class white man and failing heavily to be the beacon of artistic freedom it hopes to be. This is my sector and my art, and so it hurts that talking about theatre sometimes feels like flogging a dead, decaying horse. Though I am eager to engage more people in the industry and propel black theatre-makers (including producers, stage managers, set designers etc) into the limelight of black entertainment, we cannot pretend that it is as accessible as other industries for a variety of reasons. Well, pleasantries out the way, I want to talk about the black space that would have disrupted the status quo of today’s theatre industry forever.
The last few years have seen the subsidised sector of the theatre industry take a strong focus on ‘diversity’ (yes, that wonderful buzzword). Bodies such as the Arts Council and the British Council have been pushing for the development of black and non-black artists of colour locally, nationally and internationally, at an entry level all the way through to executive status. Very slowly, but surely, we are recognising that something has got to give, and it’s about time the industry put its public money where its mouth is to truly represent the breadth of artistic voices and traditions.
That’s not to say I’m not grateful for the projects the Sustained Theatre Fund (STF) has created, but realistically we are still feeding into the canonical paradigm of white theatre. We are still fighting a cultural battle in which our work must fit the understanding of the white, male Artistic Director, and if it doesn’t, it is not worthy of space. White, male Artistic Directors are to their buildings as captains are to their ships - they’ll probably only leave when they or it dies, and even then it is statistically more likely to be inherited by someone that looks like them than it is to receive a ‘culturally diverse’ successor.