Nine tenths of bosses at the country’s 50 highest-funded theatres are white, research by The Stage reveals, with people of colour making up just 8% of leaders.
Despite several high-profile appointments, and ongoing conversations about the diversity of theatre leadership, the low proportion of individuals from ethnic minorities running English theatres is laid bare in a snapshot study that highlights the slow pace of change. It has been described as painting a stark picture of the industry.
Among the leadership of the 50 venues studied, all but one executive director is white. There has also been slow progress for women in top jobs, with only two more female artistic directors in 2019 than there were in 2009.
The research compares the gender and ethnicity of artistic and executive directors in 2019 with two previous years over the past decade – 2014 and 2009 – looking at the 50 national portfolio organisations that receive the most funding from Arts Council England.
These include major venues such as the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Exchange, the Young Vic and Sheffield Theatres. They stretch the length and breadth of the country, from Newcastle, Leeds and Bristol, to the Lake District, Cornwall and Leicester.
The findings do not include commercial theatre. However, within the subsidised sector, all NPOs have committed to improving gender, ethnicity and disability representation among their staff as part of their subsidy agreements with ACE since 2014/15.
At the time of the research, the leadership picture was still overwhelming white, with just 8% of theatre leaders – artistic and executive directors combined – from minority ethnic backgrounds.
This is still far from representative of the overall population. The 2011 UK census recorded 19.5% of people as being from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
People from BAME backgrounds made up just seven of the total 51 individuals in artistic director roles in 2019, up from three in 2014 and one in 2009, while there was just one executive director of colour – Stella Kanu at the London International Festival of Theatre.
While the study’s data has been anonymised, Kanu agreed to be named and said of the finding: “It does not make me proud, it makes me despair for the theatre sector.”
The list of the highest-funded companies does not include organisations including Talawa, Tamasha, Rifco and Hackney Empire, where people of colour hold one or both of the leadership positions, as they are not among the 50 highest funded NPOs. These companies fall between 51 and 60 in this ranking.
Looking beyond theatre to all ACE-funded performing arts institutions, there are no minority ethnic leaders in any of the 10 that receive the most money, following the departure of Madani Younis from the Southbank Centre last year. However, this will change when Carlos Acosta takes over the leadership of Birmingham Royal Ballet this year.
The findings also reveal:
The Arts Council’s most recent diversity report, for 2017/18, showed that people from BAME backgrounds made up 12% of the total NPO workforce, with women making up exactly half of all staff.
Both these figures are higher than the percentages of minority ethnic and female leaders in The Stage’s research.
Arts Council director of diversity Abid Hussain said: “While it is encouraging to see a more positive picture in relation to overall female leadership in publicly funded theatres, this snapshot demonstrates that there is still much to do, particularly in relation to the diversity of artistic and executive directors of these buildings.”
He stressed that from 2020, ACE would be publishing more detailed employment data in its annual diversity reports, including figures broken down by funding bands, region and art form.
The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, which represents organisations across the country, said that while the research did illuminate some positive changes, “there is much more to be done”.
“For theatres to thrive, it is vital that the entire workforce reflects modern society. As part of our workforce strategy, SOLT and UK Theatre are committed to improving diversity in all areas of the industry, and at all levels,” a statement said, arguing that the industry must work together to achieve this.
Correction 2/1/2019: In our initial research, we mistakenly reported that there were no artistic directors from a minority ethnic background in 2009 running any of the top 50 best-funded NPOs. This was incorrect. There was in fact one – Kerry Michael at Theatre Royal, Stratford East. The results of the research have now been updated (2/1/2020) to take into account this error, for which we apologise.