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Roy Williams: Theatre must stop thinking diversity is ‘a box to tick’

Playwright Roy Williams with director Marcus Romer Playwright Roy Williams (left) with director Marcus Romer
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Playwright Roy Williams has claimed that theatre should stop thinking that diversity is “a nuisance, a problem or a box to tick”.

Williams’ comments came during a speech in which he criticised the range of black, Asian and minority ethnic-led stories in British theatre.

“Black storytelling can be about anything, absolutely anything, and within that it can be as enriching, as complex, beautiful, ugly as anything else. We are not seeing enough of those complexities on our stages. I do not believe those stories are not being written; I do believe those stories aren’t trusted… We must have belief in BAME artists and have total trust in their work,” he said.

Williams was giving the keynote speech at a conference on diversity, held at Curve in Leicester on October 14.

At the event, called 40 Years On: The Arts Britain Ignores and Diversity in British Theatre, Williams went on to say that “no one has the right to pat themselves on the back” when it comes to diversity.

“Black work is not a novelty, it is far more important than that, and it’s so much better than that. But we’re only going to get there if everyone commits to making diversity the absolute norm. We need to get over ourselves and stop thinking it’s a nuisance or a problem or a box to tick,” he said.

The conference was held 40 years after the publication of the report entitled The Arts Britain Ignores, which is hailed as the first to highlight the importance of ethnic minority arts.

Williams went on to defend being labelled a black writer, claiming he has “never found the phrase to be limiting”.

“In fact, to be a black writer is one of the most liberating things a person can be. I am black and I write about whatever I want – I always have and I always will. The only thing that makes a black writer feel limited is if others try to force their own definition of what it means to be black and a writer,” he said.

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