Working-class voices are under-represented in theatre (your views, January 10)
In response to the article about the investigation into the social background of theatre directors (News, January 3), I would like to report that, as the child of a single mother who worked behind the counter in a bookmaker’s office for most of her adult life, I can claim to be one of the 10% of working-class directors in the UK.
Unfortunately, I am also male, white, and middle-aged. However, in my favour, I did not go to an Oxbridge university. I look forward to being flooded with job offers.
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The Arts Council has always been a massive wealth grab from the working class to the middle (‘Is British theatre guilty of failing the working class?’, Long Read, March 15, p12).
As the son of an electrician in a biscuit factory, raised on a council estate, I studied for my A levels at a comprehensive. I have spent my entire life staring at brick walls where other people have found doors.
There is a massive, unacknowledged ‘us’ in this country, defined by subtle clues of language, background, leisure and social activities. If you’re a member of that ‘us’, you will encounter doors. If you aren’t, then you either have to hope that you belong to their current pet ‘them’ or get used to hitting walls. This attitude is everywhere, and is in control of the arts. I have felt the drop in temperature in a room – at conferences, in theatres, at the Arts Council – when the occupants realised that I wasn’t one of ‘us’.
Terribly nice middle-class people are putting on shows in proper theatres and calling it ‘gig theatre’ while we’re out there doing gigs
As a result, performers like me play to pub crowds and get paid for it – though not as much as the people in proper theatres. Ironically, terribly nice middle-class people are putting on shows in proper theatres and calling it ‘gig theatre’ while we’re out there doing gigs – and getting no recognition or state funding for it.
None of our audiences will set foot in a ‘proper theatre’ outside panto season because they think it’s got nothing to do with them. They’re right. It’s a privileged, white, middle-class bubble. I don’t want to be part of that British theatre world, but a bit of honesty and self-awareness from it would be nice.
Drury Lane parking row
Once again, a branch of government does not recognise the contribution made by the arts in this country (‘Drury Lane row shows Westminster City Council doesn’t value the arts’, Editor’s View, December 20, p8).
This is very short-sighted: the money generated by the arts is substantial and while a few organisations benefit from grants, much of the sector is privately funded and should be supported by our various government bodies. This sort of misguided taxation affects the entire sector and knocks on to television, film and live music. There are very few people who do not benefit in one way or another from our outstanding entertainment sector.
Please, Westminster City Council, reconsider your demands and support one of the best exports this country has. We are going to need it when we crash out of Europe.
Westminster council should be very grateful to Andrew Lloyd Webber for the investment he is making in a truly historic venue – one in which I have enjoyed some wonderful evenings and which is surely the world’s most famous musical theatre.
I feel a certain relationship with this theatre and am excited at the news of its refurbishment, even though it will sadly be dark for some time. But I have one piece of advice: please do something about the upper balconies. As they currently exist, these are terrifying to anyone, like me, with a fear of heights and, as a result, I desperately try to avoid them.
Keep up the good work and I look forward to the reopening.
The most the charge should be is the gross potential of the three bays, especially if the coach bay does not normally incur a charge.
If a scaffolding tunnel is near the required access point, the closure becomes a health and safety issue and should then not incur a charge, as it comes under the council’s remit.
How many things does Westminster City Council close on health and safety grounds with no accountability charges to itself?
Actors’ travel expenses
Having read about Matt Long’s online petition for discounted train tickets for actors travelling to auditions, I was appalled at the way performers are treated by the British theatre industry.
The humiliation and expense of attending endless auditions with a constant fear of rejection is enough to put anyone off entering the profession. How on earth are they expected to fund these travel expenses if they live outside London? A day return ticket from Manchester to London costs £91. And in terms of other expenses, actors earning less than £21,900 per year pay £128 for Equity membership and agents take 12.5-15% commission plus VAT.
Casting directors, producers and musical directors at auditions are watching a free show and should be required to pay for it. With agents, theatres and Equity, they should contribute to a central fund to help the actors with travel expenses to their auditions, creating a fairer system all round. After all, they are the ones who will benefit in the long run.
A friend who has retired from the profession told me that in the days of British Rail, Equity had an arrangement to provide a £9 ‘travel anywhere’ voucher for members.
Everything seems to be moving backwards where this matter is concerned.
Quotes of the week
“I went for the building because being an artistic director was my end goal. One of the key things about theatre is making sure the building is welcoming, and that starts with the people running it. There have been so many times in the years I’ve been working in this industry where I’ve walked into a building and gone: ‘I’m not supposed to be here.’ That starts at the top.” – Incoming artistic director of London’s Bush Theatre Lynette Linton (Guardian)
“Me being African-American and having inherited a history of oppression and racism and that then being exacerbated by sexism and classism, I look at a country that has faced these imposed divisions and it fills me with empathy. I had to bear witness to the story of Rwanda. A lot of people who need to be spoken for are dead. They’re in the ground, not even truly buried in the way they deserve.” – US playwright Katori Hall on her new play Our Lady of Kibeho (WhatsOnStage)
“I’m quite intrigued by this new Les Mis series on tonight and I genuinely want to give it a go, but then I remember [its writer/adapter] Andrew Davies calling the musical awful and I am that stubborn I’m just not watching it.” – Musical theatre student George Coubrough (Twitter)
“My experience in theatre is that the door opened a crack and let a few of us in – and people just kept flowing through. It’s important that this film succeeds, not because I am desperate for it to succeed, but so they will let a few more women through [into film]. That is the pressure I feel.” – Director Josie Rourke on Mary Queen of Scots (Guardian)
“As a kid I was very invisible. I had a problem with speaking to communicate my thoughts and ideas. It had a huge impact on me when I won a disco competition dancing to Michael Jackson and Five Star. I realised that movement was my best way of communicating.” – Dancer and choreographer Akram Khan (Guardian)
“When you create a more diverse working environment, everyone benefits. The people doing the excluding may think they are making a personal gain for themselves but they’re not. They are robbing themselves – they just don’t realise it.” – Actor Sheila Atim (Independent)
“I’ve been going to the theatre since I was a kid, when you had a choice of buying a bag of sweets or going to the toilet. That shouldn’t be a choice.” – LW Theatres’ Rebecca Kane Burton on toilet provision in the West End (New York Times)
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