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Sonia Friedman, James Graham, Marianne Elliott: Industry leaders’ forecasts for 2018

Sonia Friedman/James Graham/Marianne Elliott. Photos: Jason Alden/Manuel Harlan/Helen Maybanks

As 2017 draws to a close, The Stage asks some of the theatre industry’s big hitters what they think the most important issues facing the sector will be during the next 12 months

James Graham, playwright

“I reckon the main battle in 2018 is – or rather should be – in arts education. Drama is disappearing by stealth in state schools, where I found my own passion and confidence. We’ve lost 1,700 drama teachers since 2010; uptake of arts under the EBacc has dropped by a quarter. Diversity and access is rightly everyone’s priority, and this should include an area where it’s less visible: class.”

Cassie Chadderton, head of UK Theatre

“The conversation about sexual harassment and other abuses of power in the industry is vital. It’s encouraging to see so many across the industry saying, simply, we will not tolerate this. I’m looking forward to seeing this work go further; to make sure that anyone working in theatre does so in a safe and supportive environment.”

Pippa Ailion, casting director

“One of the main issues is how to increase diversity in casting and in all aspects of British theatre. So I am really looking forward to Kwame Kwei-Armah’s first season at the Young Vic. He has been left a huge legacy by David Lan and I’ve no doubt it will continue to be an exciting venue, with a huge push towards diversity.”

Chris Thompson, playwright

“I continue to worry about the erosion of arts in school curriculums, which is why gateway schemes like NT Connections remain vital, provided groups are able to take part. Next year, I’m looking forward to smaller-scale new writing reaching a West End audience at the Ambassadors Theatre, and I can’t wait to see the collaborations that come from the new Old Vic 12. Beyond London, I’m excited by the brilliant programming at Sheffield Theatres and Nottingham Playhouse.”

Madani Younis, artistic director, Bush Theatre

“In 2017 I saw many diverse artists exposing the incorrect assumptions that have dogged UK theatre for too long. Entrenched notions that ‘black work is too risky’, ‘it’s low quality’, ‘our audiences won’t come to see it’ and it being the domain of outreach and education departments have been blown out of the water. A shared characteristic of those artists is the innovation of their work; the new aesthetics they are exploring and the way in which they are reinterpreting the nature of contemporary theatre. It is no accident that those who have been historically most neglected are now leading the renewal.”

Sonia Friedman, producer

“The continuing challenge for theatre is to have a more direct relationship with the world around it. Not simply as a provocative force, but also as a stabilising and calming one. When things are getting too hyperbolic, too instant or too reactionary, theatre can have a positive, reflective influence to inspire and challenge. By the end of 2018, I hope to be looking back at a year that celebrated the cultural importance of greater diversity and greater equality – a year that is remembered for a sense of tolerance and acceptance.”

Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre

“Our recent report into the workforce of the future highlighted a number of challenges facing the sector. In 2018 we all need to work together to ensure that the support is in place such that the sector continues to thrive while developing the diversity and skills of those working in it.”

Malcolm Sinclair, president, Equity

“Equity is working to coordinate and focus all the energy and new initiatives around sexual harassment. Second – and connected – our manifesto for casting, which, more widely, addresses the status of the performer. Thirdly, for 2018, the catastrophic results of austerity on local funding: the Bristol Old Vic’s will be cut by a terrifying 65%. This threatens to be only the beginning.”

Michael Harrison, producer

“The Manchester Arena attack this summer was a devastating assault on innocent people seeking live entertainment and escapism. It meant that theatres across the land had to rethink their security strategies. Now, having your bag searched is as common a pre-show activity as collecting your tickets or buying a programme. It’s unfortunate but it’s necessary. Any attack destabilises theatres for a short time and last year those attacks happened too often, meaning some venues and some family-orientated productions have still not fully recovered as audiences think twice before heading into busy cities or places of entertainment. As 2018 approaches, these issues have not gone away.”

Charlotte Jones, chief executive, Independent Theatre Council

“Apart from surviving the chaos that will inevitably accompany Brexit? Some exciting new Arts Council NPOs will be beginning their programmes and starting to offer a new way of making and approaching theatre. That’s inspiring, but theatre needs to make some serious progress in promoting and affecting diversity. The appointment of Kwame Kwei-Armah as artistic director of the Young Vic needs to be the beginning of a major shift in the status quo – not another lonely tick in a box. Let’s make 2018 the year that theatre reflects our changing society.”

Jenny Stephens, artistic director, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

“Quality and diversity are two of our great watchwords and this will be the case in 2018. We’re particularly excited to be continuing our creative relationship with Bristol Old Vic. This year we are mounting a collaborative production with it and Diverse City so technical and acting students will be working on The Elephant Man with leading disabled theatre practitioner/actor Jamie Beddard.”

Tom Watson, shadow culture secretary and deputy Labour leader

“As Brexit inches closer in 2018, theatre and the arts will be even more important in keeping Britain outward-facing and open-minded. We need to maintain our focus on diversity so stages and screens represent our whole nation. That requires fairer access to arts education, for the many not the few.”

Kenny Wax, producer and president of the Society of London Theatre

“Despite many challenges such as Brexit, the economy and encouraging diversity of audience and workforce, the West End is thriving. The Bridge is a wonderful addition to the theatrical landscape. Southwark Playhouse, Charing Cross Theatre, the Vaults and the Park have all established strong identities in recent years providing a much needed, high-quality ‘Off-West End’. We are enjoying a renaissance in new plays, proving that producers and theatre owners are prepared to take risks. We have much to look forward to in 2018 including another sassy new musical, Six, at the Arts Theatre in January.”

Chris Stafford, chief executive, Curve

“As always, the challenge many of us face is how we do ‘more with less’; now more than ever, partnership working is going to crucial for our sector to continue to be flourish and take artistic risks.”

Nicholas Serota, chair, Arts Council England

“Exciting, diverse productions and experiences have been making their way on to our main stages over recent years but the energy and creativity seen in some of our diverse-led organisations deserves a wider audience. At the Arts Council, we will continue to develop our support for creative practitioners in 2018, from writers to people experimenting with digital content, through our new Grants for Arts and Culture programme, while ensuring that we reach new audiences through rural touring and Creative People and Places.”

Daniel Evans, artistic director, Chichester Festival Theatre

“Diversity, diversity, diversity. We will keep removing the barriers to our buildings and work, so that more people – and all kinds of people – can have meaningful artistic experiences. We’re excited about collaborating more deeply with the digital world, furthering our Mid-Career Artists Scheme and enjoying the fruits of our Playwrights’ Fund.”

Marianne Elliott, director

“I’m always drawn to female stories with female protagonists, and I particularly yearn for more older actresses to take centre stage in 2018. It feels an exciting time for emerging artistic directors and I can’t wait to see Ellen McDougall flourish at the Gate and Michelle Terry take on the Globe. And where are the mums out there in the directing world? Let’s get some more of them. I hope for continued bravery and risk taking for all theatremakers in 2018 and beyond.”

Jenny Sealey, artistic director, Graeae

“A hope: that the wider sector engages with Graeae’s ensemble actor training starting in the new year. This is an ongoing testimony to our commitment to provide training for the next generation of D/deaf and disabled actors. A plea: help us continue to fight against the cuts in Access to Work, which are seriously impacting on D/deaf and disabled people’s involvement in theatre. A wish: I would love someone out there to take notice and help me get Graeae’s Reasons to be Cheerful on in the West End.”

John Glen, arts minister

“2018 will be an exciting year for regional culture. Arts Council’s £104 million investment in 190 theatres and touring company NPOs will be a real benefit to the sector across the country, and is recognition of its economic significance and the pleasure it brings to our lives. Our arts and creative industries are truly world leading. With the success of Hull 2017, the huge enthusiasm in Coventry as UK City of Culture 2021, and the upcoming Great Exhibition of the North in Newcastle-Gateshead, the cultural future is very bright for our regions.”

Tamara Harvey, artistic director, Theatr Clwyd

“There are things we know about 2018 – we will all be focusing on tackling abuse and harassment; we will all be fighting increasingly dangerous funding cuts. And there are things we’re still figuring out – how to make sure that our theatres are spaces for all, that we are using all of our creativity, passion and innovation to work with our community not just for them, that we are proving time and again that the arts make our society healthier and stronger, and that – with the support of audiences, artists and journalists alike – our regional theatres can be the lifeblood of culture in the UK.”

Jackie Wylie, artistic director, National Theatre of Scotland

“We are lucky to live in Scotland where theatre is valued and placed at the heart of cultural life. Theatre is a way of generating debate and discourse, igniting national conversation about the future. Now more than ever we must allow and support artists to ask challenging questions of these challenging times and bring marginal voices into the centre. In 2018 the National Theatre of Scotland will have a particular focus on future generations of artists and audiences.  We need to open up institutions to new and younger voices, those who will inherit the outcomes of the seismic decisions that are being taken today.”

David Grindrod, casting director

“What am I looking forward to? More British musicals along the lines of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. The main issues for theatre to be addressed are making sure there are no cuts in government funding for the arts, and ensuring funding is available for student training within our colleges.”

Paule Constable, lighting designer

“If I were to say anything it would have been about the gender war going on. About the exposure. About wanting to find justice but also not taking the subversive out of our community. We have to be very careful that we don’t blur lines and try to make our community anodyne. But we do need to address the balance of power and the abuses of that power as well.”

Pravesh Kumar, artistic director, Rifco Arts

“It is time to give BAME artists real opportunities to lead. Authentic voices will encourage new audiences and create integral growth to our theatre industry.”

Noma Dumezweni, actor

“Generally the representation of the many types of talent around us is slowly, but happily, getting better. The word ‘diversity’ though, irritates me. It can give people a tick-box excuse, with little responsibility for the human involved. Representation. I’m always excited about those I know surprising me and curious about the new, which I had the pleasure to witness at the Stage Debut Awards.”

Indhu Rubasingham, artistic director, Tricycle Theatre

“The world seems to be spinning into numerous situations creating divisions and chaos and sometimes it’s hard to see what place theatre can have in this context. I believe it’s now more important than ever for theatre and the arts to be a place of social cohesion, community and safe spaces. Here in Kilburn, in 2018, I am particularly excited about reopening our theatre – we can’t wait to share our plans with you.”

Rachel O’Riordan, Sherman Theatre

“I am excited about diversity, in all its forms, represented at Sherman Theatre next year. We all have to make bold decisions to change the status quo; encompassing all the ways we can make theatre that speaks to wider audiences. Theatre must be open, egalitarian and a crucible for thought if we are to remain relevant. And I hope 2018 sees theatres working more closely and effectively as colleagues and peers.”

Kumiko Mendl, artistic director, Yellow Earth Theatre

“Next year begins an exciting new era for Yellow Earth as we become a national portfolio organisation and forge new paths touring the first mid-scale British East Asian play with Royal Exchange and Black Theatre Live. The company will continue to strive and advocate for better BEA representation and equality in the industry reaching into the regions with our new acting academies, our continuing professional writers’ programme, productions, playreading festivals and our innovative schools and museums work.”

Compiled by Matthew Hamley, Georgia Snow and Giverny Masso