There is a problem with the concept of outreach. If a theatre is genuinely serving its community, being part of the community, then there is no need to reach out – the buildings will already have the doors open and the community will always feel that the building is their space, whether or not they are ‘theatre people’, whether or not they are coming to see a play.
Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor‘s work proves that theatre is nowhere near as diverse or inclusive as it could be. This is not what most of us want, yet too many venues’ outdated approaches mean that diversity and inclusion are policies rather than actuality. Focusing on buildings instead of people, walls instead of community, is part of the problem.
Beverley Nunn is an ambassador for Fun Palaces, hosted by Sheffield Theatres. She sees her job not as selling culture but connecting communities – which could be the theatre and local community, or different local groups. Connecting with others is why most of us came into the theatre in the first place.
Many coming to the Fun Palaces events in October will enter those buildings for the first time ever – coming in not to see a play, but to be part of their own community within a building entirely new to them.
We know that many people feel that theatre and the arts are not for them. Through handing over those spaces, even for a few hours, we have seen new conversations begin, bringing communities closer together, welcoming everyone into the arts, not just as consumers but as creators. In this way we hope our arts might become more genuinely inclusive, not merely in policy but in fact, when people from every facet of society become cultural leaders we will have a culture that truly stands for all of us.
As Nunn says: “There’s so much amazing creative activity happening in our neighbourhoods – in parks, playgrounds, community centres, youth clubs, shops and cafes – that isn’t recognised, valued or indeed celebrated as ‘art’.
“If we adopt an approach that begins with those central arts buildings committed to finding out what’s going on beyond their doors, by getting out there, meeting people and experiencing for themselves the richness and diversity of community and grassroots arts, we will see a two-way learning and sharing process start to emerge.”
None of us wants to impose culture from above, but unless we are seriously listening to what’s happening outside the walls, working with – not just for – our communities, then that is what we are doing. If we want our communities to feel they really do belong in our theatres, we have to mean it when we say the theatre belongs to them.