Cut funding for theatres that fail on diversity, Equity leader tells Lords

Equity general secretary Christine Payne. Photo: Phil Adams
Equity general secretary Christine Payne. Photo: Phil Adams
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Equity general secretary Christine Payne has urged the government to link arts funding directly to the improvement of diversity, to address the “under-supply” of black, Asian and minority ethnic actors.

Payne was speaking at a House of Lords inquiry into skills in theatre, which is examining the technical skills gap in the industry and diversity in the workforce.

Answering to the communications committee, Payne said more diversity in the industry could be achieved through better monitoring of organisations, changes to the casting process, and by encouraging the arts in education.

She said: “There is not an under-supply of actors, but there is an under-supply of a diverse range of actors.

“If I read one more letter about the difficulty of getting BAME actors…

“One of the reasons for this is that getting good professional training is very expensive.

“Also, there is lots of work out there for white men and women and we need to challenge that to show there are work opportunities for all our communities.”

She added: “I would like the government to do better monitoring so that we can see where the gaps are, we need to get proper figures.

“I think the government should be saying that monitoring will affect funding if theatres don’t step up and make themselves more diverse.”

Payne said the casting process needed to be shaken up to give a more diverse range of actors opportunities.

She said: “Part of increasing diversity is recognising the barriers that affect it, which can include things like childcare and the casting process.

“Coming to multiple castings can be very costly, we are saying that if there are multiple auditions then some of the actor’s travel should be paid.”

Payne also spoke about the importance of studying arts subjects from a young age at school.

She said: “Most of the encouragement for actors to come into the industry is given in school through good teaching and exposure.

“It’s important to recognise that these are respectable subjects. What we do is proper work, it is not fluffy, and becoming an actor is as respectable as becoming a lawyer.”