Is it acceptable that producers are casting shows under the title The Best of the West End – at the Royal Albert Hall on October 8 – in which black, Asian and minority ethnic performers are not being used (News, June 25 )? This is especially true when the concert is using musical numbers from The Lion King and Dreamgirls.
Surely this is not the ‘best’ but the worst. Those shows were written to give BAME performers a voice, but now we have been muted once again. Why not call it ‘The Best of the White West End’?
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Audiences must behave politely
I was horrified to read Mark Rylance’s comments condemning actors who complain about noisy audiences (News, June 14). It’s nonsense to say that badly behaved audiences simply mean actors are not doing their job properly.
Surely this is all part of a general selfishness that sadly pervades our society: “I don’t like this play”, or: “I don’t think the acting is good, therefore I can talk, fidget, rustle my sweets and crisps, and get on my phone.”
You may not be enjoying the performance, but other people are. Even if no one is enjoying the show, it is not necessarily the actors’ fault, and it is no excuse for bad manners. We are, after all, supposed to be adults, not five-year-olds who can’t sit still or keep quiet for a relatively short period of time, just because we’re not enjoying a show.
To misquote Shakespeare: “The fault, dear audience, is not in our actors. But in ourselves if we are oafs and fools.”
Appealing to the local community
Local audiences do need to be nurtured and cherished to buck the downward trend in regional theatre (Editor’s View, June 7).
Over the past 12 years, Guildford Shakespeare Company’ s audiences have embraced our output because they take pride in their community. By buying our tickets, they are supporting their local arts economy. I am proud that ticket sales continue to rise and we’ve increased the number of jobs for artists (113 in 2017), despite relying on 80% ticket sales.
People do ask about ticket prices (which range from £15 to £25), but when we explain that putting on a show costs about £100,000, we are paying 15 people’s wages and we receive no core or local funding, they understand.
Regional theatre was once the heart and soul of British theatre. Every town had a venue that made its own shows, where the creative teams lived and worked for the duration of the season. As a result, the theatre’s work was tangible and meant something to the people who lived there. Increasingly, theatres are becoming receiving houses, selling shows that are made elsewhere.
West End figures continue to rise because of large commercial investment. But the promotion of these expensive, ‘must-see’ shows means that regional audiences gravitate to them in lieu of locally made theatre. The knock-on effect is that outside London commercial producers are under pressure to do more, which necessitates more expensive tickets, increasing audience expectations beyond what is possible regionally.
A reinvigoration of theatregoing outside London is needed, but it’s not the only issue. Until the media and funding bodies stop being so London-centric and top-heavy, regional theatre will continue to battle local audience perceptions. With more investment, more can be produced, leading to greater opportunities to create more affordable tickets.
Let’s make it locally, play it locally and tip the balance back into our industry’s – and our communities’ – favour.
Co-founder, Guildford Shakespeare Company
Jonathan Church urges the industry to “step up to save regional theatres before it’s too late” (Opinion, June 21).
We live within 20 miles of three lovely ATG theatres – in Aylesbury, Milton Keynes and Oxford. However, we are going less often as seat prices, even for members, are too high.
In the past couple of months, we have seen three excellent plays in London for less than £30 a seat, by taking advantage of early booking and other discounts. Few such deals are offered at our local theatres, where the productions are often touring musicals or feature star casting in an otherwise dull production.
Milton Keynes Theatre was excellent when it opened and we saw virtually every production. Sadly, that is no longer the case.
The Stage reported on an audience survey, saying theatregoers “would prefer shows to start earlier to allow more time to travel home or socialise after the performance’’ (‘Matilda the Musical moves weekday start time to 7pm ’, May 22).
I understand the need to travel home at a reasonable hour, but why, after going to a live performance, do people need to socialise?
Fair pay for all?
I find it egregious that productions calling themselves professional, produced by established professional companies, only pay a proportion of their cast. (Mark Shenton, Opinion, May 24 ). All actors are equal it seems, but some are more equal than others.
Quotes of the week
“It really could have been saccharine and unintelligent, which, let’s be honest, some musicals are, with an eye on the bucks rather than making a piece of art. This is a piece of art.” – Jenna Russell on Fun Home (Independent)
“As a 15-year-old black girl I had the capacity to enjoy Shakespeare – and I did. For one thing, he writes an awful lot about powerlessness. You can’t say he has nothing to offer because he’s a white man, because he has a lot to offer me as a black woman.” – Actor Sheila Atim (Telegraph)
“You can’t afford to have an ego in theatre, especially if you are a writer. Because, can you think of a more collaborative art? In Imperium we have 25 actors, a director and an associate director, a choreographer and a lighting designer – you are just part of the team. Once it’s on, it’s not your show any more, it’s the cast’s.” – Playwright Mike Poulton (Times)
“I did some awful shows, got some bad reviews, and started thinking, ‘These audiences that I’m choreographing work for – they’re a world away from the average person.’ I realised I couldn’t afford to buy tickets to my own show at the Royal Opera House.” – Choreographer Will Tuckett (Independent)
“It’s utterly depressing that a British East Asian actor at drama school is asking if I can recommend anyone to teach him how to do Chinese accents. Not the first request of that kind I’ve had.” – Actor Daniel York (Twitter)
“When I did get in to drama school, I was over the moon, but I was also thrust into an environment that I had never been subjected to before. It was just me and one other black person in the whole year. It was also the material that I was presented with – it was really stereotypical and also lazy.” – Identity School of Acting founder Femi Oguns (ES Magazine)
“I’m coming to realise that there’s an unchallenged idea that work by black, Asian, East Asian and disabled writers cannot be conceptual, subverting and downright feminist. That somehow our work can only be cultural, rooted in something real and serving all the audiences.” – Playwright Chinonyerem Odimba (Twitter)
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