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Madani Younis: ‘Diversity quotas in theatre are tragic’

Madani Younis, artistic director of the Bush Theatre. Photo: Stephanie Methven Madani Younis, artistic director of the Bush Theatre. Photo: Stephanie Methven
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Bush Theatre artistic director Madani Younis has labelled quotas aimed at increasing diversity in the sector “fucked up”.

Younis was among artistic directors including Vicky Featherstone and David Lan who were part of a panel discussing the future of leadership in British theatre at the inaugural Artistic Directors of the Future conference. This is an initiative set up to advocate for more diverse artistic leadership and nurture black, Asian and minority ethnic directors.

He criticised the lack of progress made by the theatre industry, claiming the sector had failed to rise to the challenge of diversifying itself.

“There does feel like there is a deeper question at play because it is ironic that we all sit here as liberals, as lefties, nodding and agreeing with these ideas but what have we achieved in order to change this reality?” he said.

Younis dismissed the idea of quotas for artistic and associate directors in theatres as “tragic”.

His comments follow calls from directors including Michael Buffong, who said quotas were needed in the sector to bring about change.

Last year, a campaign was launched aimed at introducing quotas to increase diversity in television.

Younis added: “The idea of bartering for our equality just feels perverse to me. Sadly that is where we are at. If we deem that to be where we are, then hey, it is what we have to do. But it is fucked up in 2015 to try to barter for equality in a sector that describes itself as liberal.”

Featherstone, who has run the Royal Court Theatre for two years, said she hoped the artistic director that followed her at the venue would be from a minority ethnic background, but added that the change needed to come from above.

“It’s absolutely about who is on the boards, how ambitious are the boards, how much does the board really want to see the organisation change and shift… I really want the next artistic director of the Royal Court not to be white. It’s fine for me to say that, but does the board want that?,” she said.

She added: ”One of the things that we have to get better at – those of us who are artistic directors – is that we need to be mentoring people, helping people with application forms, coaching people with interviews. I’m not talking about directors and getting their work better, I’m talking about the actual route to being an artistic director.”

Meanwhile, Young Vic artistic director Lan said the theatre industry needed to address historical inequalities that continue to affect the sector today.

They were joined on the panel by Kerry Michael, who is artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East and Royal Exchange artistic director Sarah Frankcom.