Theatre ‘still dominated by rich, white people’ – Lords inquiry

The House of Lords committee will investigate the impact of the 2003 Licensing Act. Photo: Chbaum/Shutterstock The House of Lords committee will investigate the impact of the 2003 Licensing Act. Photo: Chbaum/Shutterstock
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Theatre is still dominated by people from an affluent background, despite impressive outreach work by the sector, according to a new House of Lords report.

The report, published following the inquiry into Skills in the Theatre Industry, revealed that the number of performers, directors and writers from more affluent background and the underrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic theatre workers continues to be a major concern for the industry.

It was one of five key issues identified by the committee as warranting further consideration.

The committee was unable to finish its inquiry due to the unexpected announcement of the general election, so it did not analyse or draw conclusions but instead summarised the evidence heard.

Addressing the House of Lords communications committee during an evidence session, the artistic director of London’s Tricycle Theatre, Indhu Rubasingham, said “we will kill the industry in the future” if opportunities are not given to every young person regardless of background.

Five key concerns highlighted in the report

  • Access to the arts in education
  • The lack of careers advice relating to theatre
  • Inadequate training routes within the industry, including in lighting, sounds, design, wardrobe and carpentry as well as some other areas including stage management
  • Industry dominated by people from more affluent backgrounds, with people from BAME backgrounds underrepresented
  • Local authority funding cuts

During the evidence sessions, the chairman of HQ Theatres Trust, Stephen Hetherington, said local authority cuts could lead to a “breakdown in British theatre”, with Equity’s Christine Payne explaining that the cuts could adversely affect the development of new work.

Committee chairman Richard Best said: “The UK theatre is a hugely positive part of our social and cultural life, as well as contributing significantly to the nation’s economy.

“It is rightly hailed as a great success story. It showcases the country’s creative talent; it is often the starting point for careers in film and television; and it is an important element in the UK’s soft power.”

He added: “However, although we were unable to complete our inquiry, we heard our witnesses raise a number of concerns about the effects of changes in education policy, apprenticeships and training, and support for the publicly funded theatre.

“We were told that, despite efforts by the theatres, those able to benefit from private education and financial support from parents are disproportionately represented in this industry.

“We hope that the government — and all those concerned with the theatre — will give careful consideration to the issues raised with us and that this summary of evidence will contribute to maintaining and developing the flow of talent that has served the UK’s theatre industry so well.”