• Saturday, September 24, 2022

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Call to action after theatre industry branded “hideously white”

Jatinder Verma with Sadiq Khan at the opening of Tara Arts in London

By: Eastern Eye Staff

LEADING theatre directors have called on the British Asian community to do more to support performers and writers after a damning report branded the industry “hideously white”.

The report, commissioned by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, said the odds are “stacked against minorities” as the lead actor is often white.

It added ethnic minority talent is relegated to “secondary roles as hoods, hoodlums and hookers”.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, the award-winning composer behind Bollywood Dreams, said he was alarmed at the findings which criticised drama schools for failing to tackle diversity.

Jatinder Verma, founder of the Tara Arts theatre company, urged wealthy Asians to support young people dreaming of a career in the arts.

He told Eastern Eye: “I welcome the report’s recommendation calling for subsidising 50 per cent of places in drama schools.

“I hope it encourages Asian businesses and philanthropists to support young Asians with the talent and desire to get into the profession. It is time for the community to take active steps in supporting artistic talent.”

The report, published last week, also found that “white middle classes still dominate audiences” even in London. And the crisis has led to a shortage of artists for some roles and the cancellation of some productions.

Lloyd Webber said he encountered the same problem when producing Bollywood Dreams in 2002.

Pravesh Kumar is artistic director of British Asian theatre company Rifco in Watford, Hertfordshire, which runs a mentoring scheme.

He told Eastern Eye: “There needs to be more opportunities for diverse artists to get the first step on their career ladder, a series of strategic talent development programmes which are about nurturing and encouraging emerging artists.

“Too many emerging talents leave with nowhere to go after training, so signposting and introductions into the theatre industry is also crucial.

“There needs to be more opportunities like ours. There has not been enough change in the past 20 years, because the gatekeepers are still mostly white middle class men who very rarely understand diverse artists’ voices and the stories they want to tell.

“Therefore work on the stage remains mostly white with a predominately white audience. The work has to be relevant to new audiences and made by diverse artists from their point of view.”

Dr Dominic Hingorani is a lecturer in theatre at the University of East London.

He said: “While it is very welcome that Andrew Lloyd Webber recognises the lack of diversity in the theatre and the lack of training opportunities for BME artists, it will come as no shock to BME artists who have been trying to tell anyone who would listen, and they largely did not, that there is a systemic problem with diversity in the arts that could be described as institutional racism.

“The more important question is will producers such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has made a large amount of money from those who have trained and learned their craft in the publicly subsidised arts, actually do something practical to address it?”

The report has made a series of recommendations including “a more culturally diverse workforce”, more plays by ethnic minority writers and the Arts Council England to support BME writers and performers.

A spokeswoman for BECTU, the media and entertainment union, commented: “It’s vitally important that the spotlight is now being shone on theatre and the challenges it faces to achieve greater diversity.

“And the fact that Andrew Lloyd-Webber is adding his influential voice to the work done by the Arts Council thus far is powerful.

“Theatre employers and producers in London and across the country have to tackle the issue of under-representation, both on stage, backstage and front of house. The economics of theatre requires sustained progress in this area, as does our cultural diversity.”

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