Playwright Inua Ellams and actor Sharon D Clarke have warned that cuts to the arts in schools will do “irreparable damage to the next generation of the British public”.
They were speaking at the inaugural Black British Theatre Awards, where Hamilton star Obioma Ugoala argued that commercial theatre producers have a responsibility to give young people access to theatre in the wake of the cuts.
Ellams told The Stage: “We’re destroying those channels [for children to take part in the arts], and that means kids are growing up not knowing they can play at being each other, meaning they are not discovering other parts of themselves.
“It’s being sterilised from their spirits and that does irreparable damage to the next generation of the British public. Not even the arts industry.”
He added: “It’s also incredibly short-sighted, because if we are making making work and theatre more diverse, but then it becomes a question of privilege as to who has access to these art forms in school, then in the next generation [there won’t be any] performers to build on the bridges that we are creating.”
Clarke warned that creative subjects in schools are making the arts “elitist”.
“Great artists come from all walks of life and creeds and colours and so we have to keep the arts open,” she said.
Actor Michelle Greenidge echoed these comments: “Drama should be available to every human on the planet [because of] the skills that it provides you with and the fact that it gives young people confidence.
“Not everybody’s great at academia, not everybody’s good at maths and English, but in terms of telling their story and being truthful and giving realism to how they feel and what they do, its an excellent tool to have.”
Ugoala argued that commercial producers need to take on the responsibility of ensuring children have access to the arts.
“From a selfish perspective, if [commercial producers] don’t invest now, [they’ll] be missing out on that generation.
“How many Rachel Johns are we missing out on? How many Jamael Westmans? […] I’m only here because I was lucky enough to have a teacher who believed in me and said I could.
“That’s something the [Cameron Mackintoshes] of the world, the Disneys of the World, the Nimaxes of the world need to say: ‘We want to, this is part of our responsibility’, as much as it is for the Royal Court, the Young Vic the Old Vic and the National.”