The Diversity Plight
Rumble Theatre was formed within the white-washed South West bubble in which Exeter University resides. Coming from the multicultural and diverse landscape of Shepherds Bush, I distinctly remember how shocked I was that the number of black people I was to see in three years could have been counted on one hand.
Returning to London to make work this year has been an enormous learning curve in lots of respects and we're only just beginning. One realisation that came as the biggest surprise was the lack of racial diversity at our 'Sardines' auditions. London is a more multicultural scene than Exeter by nature and we were naive to think that this would be reflected at our auditions. Instead, what it revealed was an endemic struggle within the theatre industry as a whole to make our creative industries diverse, to actively broaden our network of talent and to outreach.
This is, of course, not a new revelation. If nothing more, the Oscars last year shone a spotlight on the discrepancy between black and white nominees resulting in a mass spread of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. It is for reasons such a this that corporations like the National Theatre no longer hire volunteers because by and large the only people who can afford to work for free are those who are still living at home, supported by their parents. The industry is cutting down on nepotism because if we continue to employ people who are connected to the current workforce then we are stifling opportunities for newcomers. Marketing departments are trying harder to reflect a racially diverse workforce within their visual media so that BAME applicants see themselves represented and welcomed.
All this is a really positive step in the right direction. Often I think it is easy, as a white middle-class candidate, to distance oneself from the issue. I recently attended a talk on 'Community Theatre in Arts Organisatons' at the Bush Theatre in which artistic director, Madani Younis, expressed his frustrations at the ethics of authorship. Using the Grenfell tragedy as an example, he was angered that too often people make stories out of someone else's reality. This theme of ownership and question of who has the right to tell what story is a complex one and one that requires careful consideration from one project to the next. However, what we want to avoid is this stopping us from challenging contemporary and topical injustices.
Artist and filmmaker, Steve McQueen, summarises this perfectly in a 2016 Guardian article where a fellow interviewee refuses to "step into" McQueen's challenge to Hollywood's lack of diversity. McQueen retorts:
“You are in it! Are you living in a different world from everyone else? I don’t think this is a “black” issue. I think this is our issue. If people want to categorise it as a black issue, that’s weird. Just like if I was talking about women in film. It’s my issue, too. It’s our issue. It’s about ‘we’.” He spells it out: “W.E; not M.E.”
Little did he know what pertinence his comparison to women would have in 2018.
For us, going forward, we are trying harder to outreach. We are targeting youth groups from diverse areas, we will begin the process to ensure our media supports and encourages BAME applicants and we will always strive to make our work accessible and engaged with this wonderfully multicultural city. This is a transition that, undoubtedly, will not happen overnight, but we are aware and we all need to fight this.