In January, HighTide artistic director Suba Das posted an image on social media captioned: “The class of 2019… we’re here to fuck some shit up.”
It showed a diverse gathering of new artistic directors from some of London’s major theatre organisations – from the Young Vic’s Kwame Kwei-Armah to Lynette Linton at the Bush, Justin Audibert from the Unicorn, Theatre Royal Stratford East’s Nadia Fall, Roxana Silbert from Hampstead Theatre, Michael Longhurst from the Donmar Warehouse and Das himself.
— Suba Das (@SubaDasDirects)
Sarah Frankcom, Manchester Royal Exchange artistic director, observed at the time: “It’s the beginning of something, it does feel like something has shifted.”
That comment seemed particularly pertinent coming from Frankcom, whose tenure has been transformational for the Exchange. Even more so when the following month she was announced as the new director of LAMDA.
Because, if a similar photo had been taken at the time of those running the UK’s leading drama schools, it would have told a different story. Or, to quote Frankcom again: “Drama schools are, still, really monocultural.” But, maybe, slowly, things are starting to change.
Shortly before Frankcom’s appointment, director Orla O’Loughlin took up a similar role at Guildhall. Both have spoken of a desire for revolution, or at least significant evolution.
Frankcom has said she will be seeking “radical solutions” at LAMDA, while O’Loughlin has spoken of a desire to “re-imagine what it means to train as an actor, a playwright or a producer in the 21st century”.
Now there is an opportunity for another UK conservatoire to make a bold appointment.
Gavin Henderson has had a distinguished career in the arts and has served Central for 13 years. But he has also come to be regarded by many as emblematic of the sector’s failure to adapt to a more diverse world, thanks to a public argument over diversity quotas, leading to calls for his resignation in 2018.
Now he is stepping down, Central has an important decision to make, but it should consider the lesson of the Southbank Centre and its mishandling of Madani Younis’ appointment and premature departure.
If institutions desire change, it’s not enough to appoint radicals and expect them to window dress. They have to fully support them.
Or, to put it another way: if drama schools are going to move in step with the sector, they are going to need to be prepared to have some of their shit fucked up.
Alistair Smith is the editor of The Stage. Read his weekly column at thestage.co.uk/author/alistair-smith