I think it’s fair to say that the theatre world leans mostly to the left. Yes, I’m part of a metropolitan, elite bubble and it’s easy for me to generalise, but in my experience theatre practitioners tend to be liberal.
We aim to be inclusive, generous and supportive, and while – of course – we work in an entertainment industry, we believe theatre also has a valuable social function.
But before we rush to pat each other on the back, we should remember that sometimes this industry enables bullies, racists and homophobes. Sometimes it allows sexual assaults to go unreported, takes a while to call out yellowface, or notice that there are no black nominees in the awards line-up (until Twitter reacts).
Sometimes it creates systems that prevent working-class people from succeeding, while at the same time extolling working-class people as vital to the industry. Sometimes it cosies up to millionaires and billionaires for funding while ignoring the toxicity of income inequality, or to oil companies while ignoring their climate impact. Sometimes in the struggle to stay afloat we allow ourselves to be a means for the wealthy to salve their consciences.
Sometimes, while looking left, theatre leans right. Some might argue that isn’t such a bad thing. In a recent article in the Atlantic, Helen Lewis asked if it was possible for the predominantly Remain theatre world to create work that is relevant to the 52% who voted to Leave. This is an excellent question, and indeed a better one might be whether we are even the ones to answer it?
Theatre leaders are understandably calling for a period of healing, of coming together, reminding ourselves of our shared humanity and calling for the return of civil discourse, where we recognise other viewpoints and agree to disagree.
Sometimes, while looking left, theatre leans right – some might argue that isn’t such a bad thing
As an optimist, I want to believe this is the way forward, but at the same time I want to scream into the sea at the idea that, in order to heal those divides, I have to ‘agree to disagree’ with politicians who, if they are not racists, are happy to court the racists’ vote. That I have to engage with homophobes and xenophobes and transphobes.
I want the theatre world to reject this utterly. I want the theatre world to boycott the Evening Standard Awards for the paper’s support of Boris Johnson, in solidarity with the women he dismissed as resembling “letterboxes” and the gay men he described as “bum boys”.
But how can any theatre leader do this in the face of inevitable Tory cuts to the arts? They need the millionaires’ money, the exposure of the awards and, dare I say, the ticket revenue of the bigots.
I want the theatre world to make racists uncomfortable while also giving voice to the white working classes who feel abandoned, theatre that challenges transphobia while understanding that for some this is a brave new world they do not understand. Theatre prides itself on inclusivity. How do we include everyone without alienating anyone?
Catherine Kodicek is a freelance costume designer, previously head of costume at London’s Young Vic theatre. Read more of her columns at thestage.co.uk/author/catherine-kodicek