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Stella Duffy on diversity: Theatre industry is ‘screwed’

Stella Duffy. Photo: Gino Sprio Stella Duffy. Photo: Gino Sprio
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Fun Palaces founder Stella Duffy has accused the theatre industry of being “screwed” when it comes to audience diversity.

Speaking to The Stage at UK Theatre’s Touring Symposium, she said: “Our cultural industries are currently not opening ourselves up to change. We’re scared. If I go and do a keynote for a big city firm on diversity, they’re scared but they’re doing something about it. Or the ex-military people who took part in Fun Palaces last year, they have every reason to be scared and they’re doing something about it.”

She added that the theatre industry is “hanging on to the idea of art for art’s sake,” and that this attitude is “wrong”.

“If we want to make a difference we’re going to have to be braver. Joan Littlewood was accused of not caring about art. She said: ‘Bloody right, I care about the people.’”

Her comments were backed up by Erica Whyman, deputy artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who insisted that the theatre industry has to make “a leap of faith” when it comes to attracting new audiences.

She said: “It’s very hard when there is so little money, but we have to present a different story.”

Both theatremakers hit out at cuts to arts and education, and blamed austerity measures for a lack of cultural opportunity.

Whyman said: “Children in this country are looking in the eye scandalous poverty and scandalous inequality, particularly in regard to confidence and cultural opportunity.”

Duffy agreed: “We’ve been living with austerity for seven years. Obviously it’s not working. We’ve got Brexit, we’ve got Trump in America, we’ve got people constantly telling us we’re living in a divided nation, we’re being told we’re going to hell in a handcart by the people who should be providing alternatives.”

She continued: “We’ve got to stop paying lip service to diversity. We’ve got to stop it. Can we do better? Yes. We’ll be a bit shit at it, but that’s okay. If we wait until we know what we’re doing, we’ll never get there.”