I have been watching the Extinction Rebellion climate protest campaign with fascination. As the days passed and their commitment to the cause was demonstrated in no uncertain terms, I wondered why it moved me so much.
Obviously I fear for the world we are leaving for our children. And I’m sad that my caring responsibilities have prevented me from standing alongside them and demonstrating my belief in the need for direct, transformative action.
But more than anything, what profoundly affected me was the collective action for a fundamental shift in how we behave, how we do things, how we work and how we see the world. A movement from words to action; a recalibration of the system as a whole.
Like reducing our dependency on carbon, greater diversity in the arts isn’t really happening. Not in the meaningful way it needs to
This resonates with all the work that I have seen and been a part of, campaigning for representation and diversity in our creative community. There has been so much talk, endless well-meant dialogue, about the need for diversity. We know the arguments, moral, ethical and economic; clearly no one thinks diversity is a bad idea.
And yet, like reducing our dependency on carbon, it isn’t really happening. Not in the meaningful way it needs to. There has been progress of course, but not in the way there ought to have been, given the weight of the arguments and the stakes.
The Stage’s recent analysis of 19 West End productions demonstrated a healthy overall representation of minority-ethnicity performers. However, a look in detail beyond the broad ‘BAME’ tag showed under-representation of South and East-Asian performers. Analysis of size and scale of the roles demonstrated that, still, black, Asian and minority ethnic and female performers are more likely to play ensemble roles than named ones. For white male performers (the majority in terms of representation) the opposite is the case.
The very fact that The Stage is undertaking this kind of analysis is, in itself, commendable progress. We need to be attentive and mindful of what sort of work is out there. But my feeling is that we must go even further and be mindful and attentive about how we go about making work in the first place. Yes, the gatekeepers are becoming more diverse. But they could be much more diverse. It is still the case that creatives with caring responsibilities have very limited access to work in our business; there is still a lot of unconscious bias in how casting happens; we are not yet at gender parity.
I have been fortunate to be part of a steering group on a new resource created by UK Theatre and Tonic to offer practical help for theatres wanting to diversify. The toolkit, to be launched later this summer, aims at recalibrating the fundamental processes of making work from the ground up: the scheduling, logistics, the unconscious assumptions. It is very ambitious and very much needed. We have come a long way, yes. And we do ourselves a disservice if we do not keep pushing our creative community to do more and do better.
Stephanie Street is an actor, writer and co-founder of Act for Change. Read more of her columns at thestage.co.uk/author/stephanie-street/