Women will make up half of all living writers and directors working at the National Theatre from this time next year, and one in four performers in every production will come from a minority ethnic background, the theatre has claimed.
National Theatre director Rufus Norris claimed that the organisation will reach the diversity targets it set for itself in 2016 by the intended date of March 2021, as part of ongoing efforts to increase representation among its artists and audiences.
Norris, who has also announced that his own tenure at the NT will continue for a further five years, said the industry had achieved “significant progress” on diversity, with the theatre itself striving to hit a series of targets relating to the gender and ethnicity of the writers, directors and actors creating its work.
Under these aims, 50% of living writers and directors working at the NT will be female, with people of colour representing 20% of writers and directors.
On stage, there will be a 50:50 gender split, on average, with actors from minority ethnic backgrounds comprising at least 25% of casts.
Norris said: “That milestone will be reached by this time next year. Changes across the theatre sector have seen some significant progress across the past few years, and confirmed absolutely that we must create a place for diversity. There is more work to do of course but it’s essential that we continue to work to represent the nation.”
In 2018-19 at the National Theatre, women accounted for 36% of living writers and 46% of directors, while people from minority ethnic backgrounds made up 13% of directors and 10% of writers. The NT expects to see improvements in all these areas over the coming year.
Norris’ announcement came alongside that of the NT’s programme of new work for 2020-21, which includes Alice Birch’s adaptation of Rachel Cusk’s trilogy of plays Outline, Transit and Kudos. This will be directed by Katie Mitchell. Other confirmed directors include Indhu Rubasingham, Nicole Charles and Lynette Linton. The season also includes works by playwrights Roy Williams, April de Angelis and Jack Thorne, while actors appearing include Kristin Scott Thomas, Nicola Walker and Giles Terera.
Norris added that the initial targets, set in 2016, were intended to get the NT “to the starting line”.
“We’re pleased to have done that but also we’ll just continue that work. We can also get more sophisticated and nuanced about it. It’s a very, very broad spectrum of representation that we’re looking at,” he said.
He hinted that further targets could be developed around socio-economic background and D/deaf and disabled talent, and added: “I can’t speak about that at the moment, but there are two issues: what we say publicly and, more importantly, what we do, and are very much in the habit of doing.”
This week, Arts Council England warned some subsidised theatres that they must improve diversity or risk jeopardising their future funding, as the body criticised the industry for being too slow to change.
Elsewhere, the NT confirmed it would be extending its range of low-price tickets to cover “every performance of every production in each of the three theatres”.
Previously, such low-priced tickets were available only for some productions, but these will now be available for all shows.
Under plans unveiled by joint chief executive Lisa Burger, a third of all tickets will be available at £20 or less, a 25% increase on the previous amount in this price range. It represents quarter of a million seats a year, of which 200,000 will cost £20 and 50,000 will be £10.
Burger stressed the importance of cheap tickets to the NT’s ambitions of being “a theatre for the whole nation”, adding: “We hope to welcome a bigger and broader audience to the South Bank than ever before.”
Norris added that this would be achieved without denting box office income.
“It’s a complicated picture but the overall news is that it will cost no more and no less than it has done,” he said, confirming that top-price tickets would not increase as a result.
The news comes despite the NT’s loss of high-profile sponsors including Travelex, which funded the NT’s £10 tickets scheme for more than a decade, and Shell, whose partnership with the theatre came to an end last year amid increasing pressure over arts sponsorship by fossil-fuel companies.