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Just 10% of theatre directors ‘are working class’ – report

Almost nine out of 10 UK stage directors identify as white, according to the new study. Photo: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock
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Only one in 10 theatre directors are from a working-class background, according to new research.

The findings have been labelled “sobering” by industry body Stage Directors UK, which commissioned the report with the National Theatre, RADA and the Old Vic.

Called The Director’s Voice, the report surveyed more than 300 directors across the UK. It was carried out to “better understand where our directors come from, where their education and training is, and where they might plateau”.

The report’s findings include:

  • 89% of the directors surveyed were white, compared with 80% of the population that identifies as white British.
  • 79% are categorised as upper-middle or middle class, against 27% of the population.
  • 10% of directors had a working-class background, compared with 44% of the general population
  • 93% were educated to degree level or higher, but only 19% reported studying a drama-related subject at undergraduate level.
  • 86% said they had taken non-directing employment in theatre, with most stating this was an acting role.
  • 52% of the directors were male; 48% were female.
  • 84% reported having no disability.

SDUK executive director Thomas Hescott said the report was commissioned to “get a clearer sense of who makes up the UK’s directing workforce, and what gaps, if any, there are in their training and career development”.

“While none of the statistics around the socio-economic background of directors, and around the diversity of the directing workforce, will come as a shock, it does make for sobering reading,” he said.

He added: “The report also highlights that there is a lack of support for directors to grow into bigger spaces and on to bigger projects. The increase in emerging schemes, coupled with a lack of long-term support after these schemes, has left many directors stranded, with little opportunity and guidance.”

The biggest proportion (63%) of the directors surveyed were aged between 26 and 45.

Most of the directors (78%) come from outside London, but more than half now live in the capital. Directors from London account for 22% of the total number of directors, while London accounts for 13% of the UK population as a whole.

“There is still a weighting in favour of London,” the report states.

A director’s class was assessed using a system known as NRS social grades, with those whose parents had higher managerial or professional jobs classed as upper-middle class, and working class defined as those whose parents had semi-skilled and unskilled manual work.

Just 3% of directors were categorised as working class, compared with 15% of the wider population.

While the number of male and female directors was broadly equal, the report notes that employment opportunities are not, with female directors not employed as much as men.

In terms of education, 17% of directors were Oxbridge educated.

Using research carried out in the 1980s, known as the Gulbenkian report, SDUK has charted progress that has been made.

It said that while the Gulbenkian report did not give a clear percentage of directors who were Oxbridge educated, it found that a “very high proportion of middle-aged directors working in British theatre studied at Oxford or Cambridge”.

However, the Gulbenkian report noted a “move away from the Oxbridge network”, which the SDUK report states has continued.

The report also highlights the “worrying trend” that emerging directors need to be educated to an MA level.

It goes on to look at support for directors and says that while a number of schemes exist for directors, there “needs to be more joined-up thinking”.

The point in a director’s career where support is lacking appears to be the “mid-career” stage, defined as the time between emerging and being established.

The report recommends that drama schools should consider establishing director fellowships, and urges more mentoring schemes.

Hescott said: “We hope that the statistics provided by the report, and the recommendations made, will open up dialogues with arts organisations and training providers to ensure that long-term support and guidance will allow directing to be open to all – not just the privileged. But structural changes need to be made to help that happen.”

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