Recently, I found myself one evening on the deck at the National Theatre with Felix (my husband and Artistic Director of Nitro). It’s the diversity event of the Cultural Leadership Programme, hosted by Kwame Kwei-Armah (playwright and National Theatre trustee) and Nick Starr (NT executive director) and lots of other (mostly white) high level theatre folk are there.
We are gathered to discuss the ‘problem’ (read lack) of cultural diversity in British theatre. Kwame kicks off the discussion, then the conversation skirts around a bit too politely for my liking. Finally I feel I just have to move things along a bit.
I explain where I’m coming from. “This is a very difficult conversation for me,” I say, “because I’m out here on the front line, and for the last 21 years we have managed to grow and develop an infrastucture at Tamasha. But the reason why we’re still having this conversation (Kwame asks if we’re going backwards, yes I’m afraid we seem to be), the reason this will not get better and we will not be at the top tables, is that all we are talking about here is this word – diversity – divorced from the artistic aesthetic, from the practice.”
It’s rather shameful that we’re in this position in 2010.
People like me (artists) are waiting for people in positions of power to have the courtesy to look through this screen titled Diversity and see the quality of the work being done. Until this is properly recognised – that companies like ours are capable of quality – we’re going to have to keep having this circular conversation. These conversations get tense because we are not being spoken to as equal artists who make work, we are only occasionally let in when there’s a diversity issue.
Anyway, I got the feeling that I woke things up a bit. Happily, I wrote to Nick Starr afterwards inviting him to Propeller and he’s accepted. Which is an excellent start.