Actor Adrian Lester has warned that theatre risks becoming “obsolete” to younger generations unless the industry urgently improves the diversity of its workers.
Lester was speaking at the launch of BECTU’s Diversity Action Plan at the London Coliseum on November 27. The plan aims to improve the proportion of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds working offstage in the industry.
“I have two teenage kids who get their entertainment from all over the planet. Their music, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, the programmes they watch, they come from all over.
“If our industry doesn’t change, and soon, we run the risk of becoming obsolete,” he said.
He added: “If you encourage young people from vibrant cultural backgrounds to come in and learn [classical art] forms and express themselves through those forms, then there are two things that will happen: one is that the form will become applicable to the younger generation, because, two, the form will change ever so slightly.”
Lester also argued that theatres should “look to the wider world” and beyond traditional recruitment sources to find diverse talent.
“For example all these people who make costumes for [the Notting Hill] carnival, they can make clothes, so don’t stand in a theatre saying ‘Well, we can’t find the skilled people’,” he said.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also spoke at the event, calling on theatre to “pull out all the stops” to improve the ethnic diversity of their workforces.
Khan also argued that a career in the arts has the potential to transform the futures of BAME young people, and in some cases “help steer them away from a life of violence”.