New shadow culture secretary Tracy Brabin has revealed that supporting youth theatres and fighting for regional arts funding will be among her top priorities in her new role.
The former actor and writer, who was appointed to the shadow cabinet this week by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, said organisations in receipt of public funding should be actively proving their commitment to children and young people.
She told The Stage: “We’ve lost drama teachers hand over fist in schools. We’ve got an exponentially rising number of young people suffering mental health crises, and drama to me was always free therapy.
“We’re going to be saying that youth theatre should be given real prominence, especially for large organisations who get public funding, and that they should have an arm that supports young people’s development.
“If you’re getting public money, where are the opportunities to use your apprenticeship levy, or to reach out to young people beyond your city walls into towns and regions around your city?”
Brabin said she was particularly keen to ensure that young people living in remote areas or far from large towns had the opportunity “to develop their own cultural language and understand culture as a job and a career”.
She added this extended beyond the area of performance. “We know there are many dozens of skilled roles behind the scenes, behind the fourth wall or behind the camera that we can say: these jobs are for you. And it isn’t only about jobs or skills. It’s about self-confidence,” she said.
Hailing from West Yorkshire, Brabin became the Labour and Cooperative MP for Batley and Spen in 2016 following the murder of Jo Cox, who was MP for the constituency at the time.
Brabin previously spent 30 years working as an actor and writer in theatre and on television, and said she hoped her background would help her to understand and address some of the key challenges facing the creative industries.
She said: “I had the most amazing career, travelled the world and met the most amazing people, but looking back at my community, I don’t think if I was growing up there now I would feel that would be possible.
“I just want to ensure that none of the young people in Batley and Spen, and around the country, are held back from fulfilling their potential. There are these clusters of shiny buildings, big money and high-end, great culture, and it’s fabulous, but we’ve got to make sure that it extends beyond those city walls.”
Brabin added that she was also “very interested” in ensuring regional theatres were adequately funded.
“If we want our communities to have a local opportunity to experience arts and culture, then we must ensure that all communities have at least one venue, either a touring venue, or a rep theatre, a youth theatre or even just a black box, where shows can be put on,” she said.
Brabin warned that it would be unlikely that she could introduce any legislation in the three months before the Labour leadership election in April, at which point a new culture minister could be appointed, but pledged to “keep the noise coming out of this department”.
She said: “I’m really hoping that my three-month audition will be powerful enough for the new leader to consider me to stay on.”