We often read that theatres should be working with more diversity in their performances and possibly being penalised if they fail. At the same time there’s this discussion about lack of funding for new works. Surely there is a link between the 2 here?
I think maybe we forget a few things, for instance all of today’s great shows all started the same way trying to source funding. Look at Les Miserable, when you look back at when the idea was first hatched it was, in all cases, the rejected play and for no other reason than it had miserable is the title. Yet as it began its 30th season 2015 it had become one the best loved and longest running musicals of all time being translated into 22 languages with productions in 42 counties and 319 cities.
Or look at Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap playing at the St. Martin’s Theatre, the longest running West End play as it began its 63rd session in 2015. There is also the world famous works of Shakespeare, originally written in the 18th Century, they all needed funding at to start out.
All of these scripts were written about a society that was racist, that was sexist and worked on stereotyping. But some of these stories are well loved and give a powerful message reminding us about our past. But to penalise a theatre or production for lack of diversity when attempting to stage these shows would be wrong and it wouldn’t solve the diversity issues in our theatres.
In The Stage on 28th May 2015 Maria Friedman spoke about the lack of work for ‘Older Actresses’, and is almost forcing a generation to move over to directing. While for ‘diversity’ this is good as we are seeing a rise in the female directors. But what does it do for the on stage diversity issue? Is it really the fault of the director or the actors that there is a limit to variety of works to cover all bases of diversity?
Steven Berkoff’s recent comment that ‘White actors should be allowed to play Othello’ seems like a desperate cry to close the diversity gap, as Othello works because of the black / white issue of the day in which it is written. White people have never been singled out and forced into a situation that Othello was, and to do that would make the whole play unreal and unbelievable.
Now I am not saying that funding bodies should just give out money to new works, as the element of risk will always be high. The writers and all those involved to producing the works should work on their pitch and not just to the funder but also the potential audience. In today’s techno world there are ways to gage if a show is going to work, in very much the same way as the retails can gage if there is a market for new product.