This is not a debate that can be easily settled. Training institutions find themselves the meat in a decidedly awkward sandwich. On the one hand, many, such as us, are devoted to training for sustained work; on the other, the government is considering reducing student loans for jobs that do not, in their judgement, contribute to the economy (it’s hard to conceive of a more misconceived idea, nor one so like Big Brother).
We and others do our best to reach out to everyone, removing audition fees and even offering total fee remission. But we are a part of an ecosystem we don’t control. The accountant Mr Gibb (remind me, what experience does Nick Gibb have to be minister for school standards?), is deaf to any argument about a broad and balanced curriculum for secondary schools, further pushing back working-class and BAME students from our creative world.
Founding Principal/CEO, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts 
Quotas have never worked (Calls for central head to resign over quotas row , May 17). Of course things need to change in order to increase diversity, it goes without saying, but the problem goes much deeper into our society – from government arts policy to the unspoken rules that dictate which of us are allowed to dream according to our class and race, to an industry that refuses to make space for stories outside of those they’ve always been told. A quota at one drama school won’t fix the inherent racism in the arts in the UK.
When I studied at Central 10 years ago, I remember discussing just this. At the time, Central was ranked among the most diverse arts universities in the UK. It’s not to say more shouldn’t be done, but it’s worth noting.
The classics still serve a purpose
I have an aversion to most ‘re-imaginings’ of classics for one reason: I have been largely unable to see the plays staged in their historical/intended context or setting (‘Classics do not need protecting’, Lyn Gardner, May 17).
It’s all very well to argue that reinvention is necessary to keep a work relevant, but perhaps you are speaking as someone who has been around, or able to afford, the theatre long enough to have seen umpteen productions of Julius Caesar in togas and half a century’s worth of dilapidated French Quarter Streetcars.
I have not had that privilege, but I would like to think my age and socio-economic background might not have permanently prevented me from being able to enjoy the thrill of seeing something close to a master playwright’s original vision on stage. This is in the same way a Warhol-inspired rendering of a Titian or Van Gogh is not like looking at the texture of their aged, deliberately painted strokes up close. Similarly, listening to a piano arrangement of The Rite of Spring isn’t akin to hearing the devastating force of the orchestral version. All adaptations have their own merits, their own beauty and their own things to say – but the originals have rock-star status for a reason.
I by no means endorse the homogenisation or static preservation of the theatrical canon, but history is not an irrelevance. Rather, being able to look at the naked past can better inform how we handle, create and move within the present. Not everything in the past requires reinvention or discarding. One of the purposes of theatre can be to challenge one’s received world view – but another, legitimate, purpose of theatre can be to reaffirm one’s received world view. Sometimes history has some good things to say and can be understood by a modern audience without explication. If a survey of the canon teaches us anything, it’s that humans are the same today as they’ve always been.
It’s great when today’s artists can take historically good ideas and augment, modify or propagate them. It’s great when art can be produced by other art. But there’s no reason we should confine our methodologies to either classical or contemporary practice. Let it all exist together and let us be devoted to preservation and adaptation. Then our hypotheses about Chekhov’s impossible reaction to our theatrical habits can be put to rest and we can focus on the business of making theatre.
“Innovation and invention are not a disease to be feared, but the tools by which classic theatre remains relevant,” says Gardner.
I love to see classic plays re-imagined, but it’s a mistake to suggest they can only remain relevant through innovation and invention. As long as we are smart enough to understand Shakespeare’s language, and the actors understand what they are saying and believe in it, the words will speak for themselves, and as long as we are human they will remain relevant.
Old Vic Youth remembered
Too bad no mention of the Old Vic Youth Theatre is made in the Old Vic’s 200th anniversary article, a wonderful 1980s and 1990s initiative that provided an extraordinarily diverse and creative outlet for young people from all over London and from all sorts of backgrounds. We performed a colour-blind Shakespeare years before it became the norm.
Did you know Tim Hardy?
I am writing, compiling and editing a portrait of [the late actor] Tim Hardy by gathering memoirs and anecdotes from those who knew him. Some I have not been able to contact and I wonder if there are any readers who might want to contribute?
Royalties are destined for three charities of particular concern to Tim.
Quotes of the week
“British theatre is very wasteful. We produce new playwrights like no other culture in the world. This is an amazing thing, but there is a by-product to it, which is that we treat plays and playwrights a bit like single-use plastics and throw them in the bin. We should be better at recycling and reusing.” –Director Paul Miller (Evening Standard)
“The stories have to be there that are about minority experience as distinct from stories about people that contain edge-of-frame stereotypes of minorities. I’m a bit bored of people going, ‘How do we do this?’ We just do it. [Writers] need to be commissioned, have their plays on and be allowed to write plays that don’t work and be allowed to fail on the same terms as anyone else.” – Actor and director Prasanna Puwanarajah on diversity (Guardian)
“People say, ‘Oh no, do we have to talk about Time’s Up again? Do we have to wear a badge? Is that still going on?’ It is, because it needs to. If we’re talking about it for longer than people feel comfortable with now, tough.” – Actor Lesley Manville (Vogue)
“Off to the Globe for the first press day of Michelle Terry’s new season. Never know what to wear. It’s sunny, but will it be hot or cold? I suppose the same question could be asked of the productions.” – Critic Sarah Crompton (Twitter)
“It’s now permissible for people to admit their vulnerabilities publicly – without grandstanding or self-pity – and expect to be treated sympathetically. That’s real progress.” – Director Richard Eyre (Guardian)
“I keep being paid to write [TV] scripts and the thing that makes you unique is what makes them ask you to do it in the first place, but then they add everything they can think of to take away that quality. They kept saying about my scripts, ‘Let’s change it, it can take it’. But no it can’t.” – Playwright Nina Raine (Telegraph)
“There are big questions we have not come to grips with. The question of class is a huge question, the gap between the rich and the poor, the state of arts education; huge, huge issues which will dominate the next few years.” – Outgoing president of Equity Malcolm Sinclair speaking at Equity’s Annual Representative Conference
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