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National Theatre Wales boycotts awards in row over diversity

Kully Thiarai artistic director of National Theatre Wales. Photo: Alex and Janet Durasow Kully Thiarai artistic director of National Theatre Wales. Photo: Alex and Janet Durasow
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National Theatre Wales has boycotted a Welsh awards ceremony in a row over diversity.

This follows an open letter with 40 signatories that condemned the Wales Theatre Awards for a “lack of diversity”.

The letter criticised multiple nominations for “white-actors playing non-white roles”, arguing the “challenges of representation should be dealt with intelligently”.

Members of NTW, based in Cardiff, did not attend the ceremony in Newport on January 27.

Kully Thiarai, artistic director of National Theatre Wales, said: “Members of National Theatre Wales had intended to attend the Wales Theatre Awards on Saturday.

“However, in light of the strength of feeling expressed in last week’s open letter regarding diversity and casting, which was signed by many artists with whom we have longstanding relationships, we decided it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to do so.”

The open letter reads: “It is our firm belief that in 2018, a convenient or ignorant casting practice is no longer acceptable and it should certainly not be rewarded with accolades.

“We urge Wales Theatre Awards to reconsider their nominations. Globally in our industry, there is finally a significant appetite for change on this and other structural inequalities. We in Wales do not want to be left behind.”

Director of the awards Mike Smith said: “Wales Theatre Awards is not an organisation, it is an an unpaid initiative by journalists and artists.

“The National Theatre Wales “snub” was therefore to the 45 reviewers who made nominations and the 450 people from across our diverse arts community who attended the awards. It was on their behalf that I politely accepted NTW’s apology.”

In October last year, London’s Hackney Empire cancelled a production of The Golden Dragon by Music Theatre Wales, which was shortlisted in three of the awards categories, after it was accused of “yellowface casting” with Caucasian performers playing Asian roles.

Welsh National Opera released a statement in response to the open letter. It said while it supports the attempt to “highlight injustice and unfair discrimination” in theatre practice, it contests the issue of white actors playing non-white roles.

The statement said: “At WNO we believe in and attempt to practice ‘colour-blind casting’ which acknowledges that it is not the race, nature, gender, colour or outward appearance of the actor that primarily determines their suitability for a role, but their talent.

“This is a far more open, constructive and reasonable standard than the only non-white actors for non-white roles rule implied by your formulation. Colour-blind casting opens up all roles potentially to non-white performers, whereas the racially accurate casting that you seem to imply diminishes the number of roles available to them.”

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