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National Theatre and RSC should ‘lead by example’ by appointing more BAME associates, says Verma

Jatinder Verma, artistic director of Tara Arts
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New National Theatre director Rufus Norris and Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Gregory Doran are being urged to increase the number of associates and producers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds working at their respective venues.

The call is being led by Jatinder Verma, the artistic director of Tara Arts, who claims such appointments are needed to create “equity of power” within the sector.

His plea has been echoed by industry figures including Talawa Theatre Company artistic director Michael Buffong, Diane Morgan – new artistic director of Nitrobeat – and Philip Hedley, former artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Writing in this week’s edition of The Stage, Verma claims that “diversity is much more than a white director employing black or Asian actors”. He adds: “It is having the power to decide what to produce in the first place, and how to do so.”

Verma adds that there is a “severe paucity of diverse associate producers in our major companies, when both the RSC and the National are in a position to lead by example”.

“Associates, by actively taking part in decision-making processes, offer potential future leaders help in the imaginative diversification of theatre. All in all, decision-making power remains firmly in white and often male hands.

“I would urge Rufus and Greg, therefore, to seize the opportunity to be part of a more equitable change in our theatrical landscape by enlarging their pool of associates and producers.”

Talawa’s Buffong agreed, adding that “greater involvement by diverse associate artists in major companies’ decision-making is important”.

“Associate artists can positively affect decision-making at the starting point – script choices, direction, casting. That is how we will see real change. These are early days for Rufus Norris and we’re looking forward to seeing how this might develop at the National Theatre,” he said.

Hedley said that Norris and Doran had demonstrated “conscientious contact-making with BAME artists”, which he said “bodes well for the future of both national organisations”.

“Jatinder is absolutely right that the essential next step is the appointment of BAME artists to roles such as that of an associate director, with real involvement in the decision-making process. Only that can guarantee that the ethos of diversity runs naturally through every aspect of a theatre’s work. If I learned anything from my 25 years as artistic director of TRSE, it is that a white boss cannot achieve the benefits and joys of multiculturalism for artists, staff and audiences without top-level BAME input, preferably in all departments,” he added.

Morgan said that “commitment to diversity needs to expand beyond temporary employment opportunities and nurture the long-term ambitions of a wider pool of theatremakers”.

Responding, RSC deputy artistic director Erica Whyman admitted there was more to do but said a new company-wide equalities plan was looking “seriously at the ways in which the RSC can encourage creative input from the widest possible pool of talent”.

“We don’t currently have associate directors, but our current roster of directors is diverse in both gender and ethnicity, our projects in development consciously include leading disabled artists and our casting department is a leader in BAME representation on our stages. We need to ensure those strengths extend right across the company and are sustainable, so we are making this a priority over the next three years,” she added.

A spokeswoman for the NT said: “We completely agree with Jatinder and as it happens, this is something we are in the process of addressing.”

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