Elephant in the room
Is there room for me? Make room, revolving doors, one in one out. All change.
Heard it all before?
There was a lot of talk back in October 2012. So much talk it’s taken me this long to process it. I’m reminded when listening to this talk how long I’ve been on this road.
I used to serve as a Board Member at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, as well as sharing my knowledge of being an artist in the Yorkshire region I used to extend my knowledge of young people’s concerns and values from a young persons point of view. I’d harp on about being heard and being young until one day I caught the pained expression of the then Chair and learned a valuable lesson in diversity around that table. This lesson included respecting where we each come from regarding experience. The young invariably want all change, disappointed at the lack of inheritance, wondering what the older lot have been not doing, tired of the talk. The older lot are embarrassed by the young uns unrealistic aspirations, based on pie in the sky ideas. They simply look away until the child stops whining. These groups end up invariably patronising each other not recognising themselves in each other at all. Now I’m in the middle and less young than I used to be I look both ways and see the value in both wishing we could build together instead of reinventing the square wheel that some of us have attempted to push forward. Making the case for Art, making the case for diversity, making the case for the case, repacking and making and remaking again and again.
Back in October the month the UK recognises Black History Month I got an invitation from Iain Bloomfield, the Artistic Director of Theatre In The Mill, Bradford to be part of a panel of artists including Nick Ahad, Playwright and Javaad Alipoor, Theatre Maker. We were to discuss the question of how to support Black and Asian performance makers. The usefulness of the event started when Iain wrote a blog http://theculturevulture.co.uk/blog/headline/keeping-honest/
Within the comments in this blog an artist suggested that the talk on support for Black Artists may not be for him and he would wait for the next one, Iain said perhaps it would be and he suspected that many of the issues raised would be similar.
Many of my fellow peers theatre/performing arts makers who could not make it asked to be informed on how it went. They couldn’t make it for many many reasons including that they didn’t know the event was happening, they were in the process of making work or they had been to too many talks in the past and couldn’t take it anymore. Some don’t attend these types of talks anymore. They are simply talked out. Talk is not cheap, sometimes talk can be very costly indeed. Wasting time and opportunities.
So for all of us I list here what I can remember: those of us in attendance shared our positions and discussed the following; lack of access to venues, Socio economic impact , setting up own companies, multi million pound arts venues with 10- 20 year tenures, Board memberships, Community Theatre, Asian Theatre school, quality control ,testing the work, access to good education, private vs state school, Oxbridge, artists getting paid, internships. racism, Institutional racism, audience development, pressures on companies to find the audience as well as make the work, theatre being made up of people not bricks and mortar, coveting what you don’t have, tax paying, seeing each other’s work, London, confidence in your work, lack of confidence, Torch bearing support and much more than I can recall. I’m hoping those who were there can also share their list!
Looking around that room at the time I suspect from that meeting, opinions and alliances were formed. Seeds were planted and plans were taken forward. This is how it is in business.
Sometimes this all reminds me of the fable with the elephant and the blind men. There were a number of blind men all invited to name the object in front of them. They each took a section, the ears, a leg, the trunk, the body. One man had the elephant’s tail in his hand and said with confidence ‘yes yes this is surely a rope’ each man called out no it’s a large fan, a tree trunk, a wall! There are so many stories across the UK about the BAME experience, no one has the monopoly on that story we have to listen and learn from each other. We don’t have to like each other but we should respect the right to be heard and maybe put it all together and see the elephant in the room.
So back to the question how can we support BAME performance makers?
Below is my list. A call for support for theatre makers.
- A call to FE Colleges and Universities come see the work. Invite Black and Asian practitioners to share their practice.
- Visit the national Archive http://www.blackplaysarchive.org.uk/
- Local Authorities when it comes to the BAME artistic community please check your policies are supporting both community work as well as encouraging professional practice. Through education provision, available spaces (up holding basic health and safety requirements of a clean and warm space, supporting Theatre venues and a strong voluntary sector. Create and support a directory of artists like the Creative Economy and VCS team at Kirklees Council have here it’s called Creative Bubble: http://www.creativebubble.org/wordpress/
- A call to venues, Lit Managers please express clearly what you require from writers on your websites a good example here Alex Chisholm Associate Director (Literary) West Yorkshire Playhouse. http://www.wyp.org.uk/about-us/our-blogs/new-writing/script-reading-again/
- Seek out the talent invite them in from the cold. Produce processes that encourages new writing from a broad spectrum of the British experience.
- Encourage a go see ticket for artists perhaps first 20 at a discounted cost.
- Programmers. Please place your commissioning policy online. Timelines, Script request, program deadlines (ish).
- Programmers come and see the work and feedback accordingly.
- Reviewers come see the work.
- Artists be prepared, learn your craft, check the context, do your thing.
There will be many more suggestions than this.
At Hidden Gems Productions where I collaborate
with Marcia Layne we support artists by working hard to ensure our work reflects the world we inhabit. Giving considered thought where we place our calls for work and the location of our auditions, giving people the opportunity to shine in their field, telling the stories that have yet to be told and ultimately making the work happen and speaking for itself.