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Lyn Gardner: Look beyond The Stage 100’s big hitters to see where theatre’s future lies

David Mumeni (Photo: Michael Shelford), Tobi Kyeremateng and Charlene Ford

If you want a glimpse of the future of British theatre then perhaps the best thing to do with this year’s The Stage 100, in association with Spektrix, is to scroll past the familiar names who always hover in or around the top 10 [1] – the millionaire producers and theatreowners such as Sonia Friedman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh – to the very end.

Here at numbers 98, 99 and 100 [2] you will find actor David Mumeni [3], producer Tobi Kyeremateng and actor Charlene Ford. Mumeni created Open Door, which offers support and mentoring to those from low-income families who are trying for drama school. Kyeremateng is the founder of the Black Ticket Project, providing free access to London shows for black young people and also BAMworks an initiative which connects minority ethnic producers [4] across the UK. Charlene Ford is the actor in 42nd Street who after becoming a parent, pushed for and secured the first job-share role in the West End.

The Stage 100 2019: 91-100 [2]

The achievements of this trio are a sign of the shifts that are slowly taking place in theatre and raising questions around how the industry operates, for whose benefit it is run, who has power and who doesn’t, who has access and who can’t get their foot in the door. Whether that’s the stage door or the door to the auditorium.

Of course, as this year’s list demonstrates, most power and influence still resides with those with the most money (whether in the commercial sector or subsidised theatre), real estate and producing clout. We still live in a world where the Royal Opera House (public subsidy of £24 million) is run by four white blokes [5]. The list (which includes a number of entries featuring multiple names) is still two-thirds male to one third female. There are only 13 people from ethnic minorities in the list. Still that’s twice the number there were in the 2015 list. Progress is slow, sometimes painfully so.

But the final few months of 2018, and the number of appointments of both women and artists of colour [6] to run buildings and companies  give genuine cause for hope that change is on the way and that next year’s list (which it should be stressed aims to reflect the way the theatre and performing arts industry is, not what it aims to be, nor what those of us at The Stage who help put together the list would like it to be) will welcome many new faces and from a wider range of backgrounds.

At least I hope so. There are reasons to be cheerful that are reflected in a list that hints that while the power that comes with money still holds sway in the theatre world, the industry is at last waking up to the value of a different kind of capital, and one that is built on creating relationships and communities, not empires, and genuinely sharing accumulated power and resources. New Diorama’s David Byrne [7] (rising 46 places to 33 [8]) is an example of that attitude par excellence.

I reckon real change only comes about, not just when you start inviting more people to join the party, but when you actually think about the nature of the party itself and how it might need to change so that everyone can have a genuine stake in it. That requires much more fundamental change – including challenging the privilege and institutionalised racism and sexism of so much of the industry. Simply welcoming people on to the dance floor is not enough. You have to create the conditions in which they can thrive.

Those challenging the status quo include Cassie Raine and Anna Ehnold-Danailov of Parents and Carers in the Performing Arts [9] who have jumped 36 places to number 52 in this year’s list. People such as Theatr Clwyd’s Tamara Harvey (new entry at 66 [10]) who not only had a brilliant year artistically, including Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling, but has helped shift the culture with her #workingmum tweets. Or Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway (84) [11] founder of Artistic Directors of the Future and an unstoppable woman on a mission to increase diversity in theatre’s senior workforces and boards.

The list also reflects how some pioneers are rethinking the very purpose of the arts. The leap of Slung Low’s Alan Lane [12] from 91 in 2017 to 43 in the list this year reflects how Lane secured funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to start a community college in Holbeck in Leeds. Similarly, David Jubb [13]’s  rise to number 35 [8] (from 78 last year) not only signals the all-round delight in the re-opening of Battersea Arts Centre’s exquisitely beautiful fire scarred Grand Hall (which has boasted a terrific first season) but also an ability and willingness to rethink the civic role of an arts centre and the creative opportunities it can provide for local young people.

The Stage 100 2019: Top 5 [14]

The architect on the Grand Hall project, Steve Tompkins, comes in number one in The Stage 100 [14] this year, a recognition of his work both on Bristol Old Vic and Battersea Arts Centre, as well as a string of projects he has already completed and those – like his planned revamp of Theatre Royal Drury Lane – yet to come. Tompkins is a rare theatre architect and one who truly understands (as Churchill once suggested) that while we shape our buildings, afterwards our buildings shape us.

This year’s list reminds that only constant creative reinvention will ensure an industry that is relevant and reflective of the wider world, that real change seldom starts at the top, and it is often those nearer the bottom who are doing most to shape theatre’s future.

Lyn Gardner is associate editor of The Stage and is part of the panel that helps compile The Stage 100 [15].

See list in full here [2]