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Act for Change assumes charity status as it launches bid for £100k funding

Act for Change campaigners Danny Lee Wynter and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith at the National Theatre in June 2015. Photo: Helen Murray
Act for Change campaigners Danny Lee Wynter and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith at the National Theatre in June 2015. Photo: Helen Murray
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Diversity campaign Act for Change has become a registered charity in what has been welcomed as a major step forward for minority representation on and off stage.

Ruth Wilson, Denise Gough and playwright Roy Williams were among theatre figures who backed the movement at an event at the Young Vic theatre.

Hailing the organisation’s charitable status, Wilson claimed it gave the group “an even greater responsibility to push things forward”, while Williams said it would help bring theatre into the 21st century.

As a charity, Act for Change has the increased ability to receive donations, with the charity setting an initial fundraising target of £100,000 for its upcoming projects.

Plans include supporting actors and artists from an educational level through drama schools, providing mentoring, and mounting larger campaigns to lobby the industry and highlight poor representation in theatre and on screen.

Speaking to The Stage at the Young Vic, Wilson said: “There’s so much to be achieved. Diversity is a major issue, and a major problem.”

She continued: “I always think that culture in our country is one of the biggest exports we have as a nation, and if we want to reflect society as it is – and we’re a multicultural society – then represent that on screen and on stage.”

The actor added that art “can break down prejudices”, and said Act for Change was trying to improve diversity “through art and through culture”.

Williams said Act for Change was helping to bring drama, both on stage and on screen, into the 21st century.

“I think we needed something, some sort of body or organisation, that says: ‘Hello everybody, this is the 21st century’,” he said.

The playwright continued: “We need to shape up and sort out how we are portraying everything in this country. We’re still stuck in the past. [We need to] bring theatre, bring television, bring all of our drama [into the 21st century].”

Act for Change’s new chair, Ayesha Casely-Hayford, explained that the charity’s overall aim “is always to campaign for greater diversity in the live and recorded arts”.

She continued: “For me, what’s very important when you start giving people a voice is that others recognise themselves. And that’s what always missing when we don’t reflect society in our art: people don’t see themselves and their sense of possibility is limited.”

“We are giving voice so that others feel empowered and stronger in who they are, can identify, and say: 'I can do it',” she said.

Act For Change was founded by actor Danny Lee Wynter after ITV released an advert for its upcoming drama slate featuring only white actors.

Since then, the group has campaigned for better representation for minority groups on stage and screen, including increased visibility for women over 50.

A major debate at the National Theatre in June last year saw the venue’s director Rufus Norris challenged on his casting of minorities, including disabled performers.

Actor and Act for Change trustee Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who questioned Norris on the Olivier stage, has since been made a National Theatre associate.

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