Having researched into theatre companies that have made huge steps forward in championing gender-equality in theatre here and here I wanted to shift my focus towards studying companies that actively promote and celebrate cultural diversity on stage.
Like women, many performers from Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are still regualrly overlooked and vastly under-represented on-stage in this country. This is an ongoing issue and another problem that needs challenging within the industry. Theatre Companies, Casting Directors and other industry stakeholders must act now, to be more progressive and inclusive, if they really value and want to reflect the cultural diversity that we are blessed with in this country.
It may be a blatantly mainstream example, but Chichester Festival Theatre’s current production of ‘Half a Six Pence‘ has come in for huge criticisms for its lack of diversity amongst its cast. Matthew Hemley, news editor of The Stage Newspaper, recently highlighted the production’s failings and the underlying problem of under-representation of BAME actors in West End productions.
“…in a cast of 26, there is not one non-white face. That, for a new production, is unforgivable.
I tried to raise it with others after the show and, while in agreement, they pointed to productions such as Motown, Memphis and Dreamgirls for proof of diversity.
The problem is, these are shows either about black performers or with black performers written into them. My problem is where race isn’t specified in the roles and an entire cast ends up being white. It smacks to me of casting directors putting performers into roles that match their own image. It’s an unconscious bias that needs to be addressed.”
Matthew Hemley – The Stage – https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/2016/matthew-hemley-camp-cliches-and-all-white-casts-welcome-to-musical-theatre-in-2016/
Further on into this article, Matthew Hemley goes onto echo my above sentiments. That the industry is in real danger of isolating and exiling a diverse audience unless everyone acts collectively to address this imbalance.
One company, who have been a beacon of light in leading the way for championing and celebrating this counties rich cultural and diverse heritage is Tamasha Theatre Company. Formed in 1989 by Director Kristine London-Smith and Actor/Playwright Sudhar Bhuchar the company was created with an objective to develop contemporary work of Asian influence for the British stage.
Since then, it has been responsible for several groundbreaking productions including: a flagship production of East is East in 1996, A Tainted Dawn, which premiered at The Edinburgh International Festival and featured an original score by Nitin Sawhney and the cult verbatim show The Trouble with Asian Men (See image below) The company actively strives to produce new work that celebrates the diversity of our globalised world and work that places emerging and established artists from culturally diverse backgrounds centre-stage.
“Tamasha is a mirror reflecting a nation of continuing change and creativity, of mixings and mergings. British culture needs reminding it has always been global. Tamasha’s stirring, audacious work makes sure the nation never forgets what it is.“
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, cultural commentator – http://www.tamasha.org.uk/about/
The company has been able to further champion diverse talent through its acclaimed – Tamasha Developing Artists programme (TDA) The programme affords emerging artists the opportunity to undertake workshops, professional mentoring and to receive on-going professional support. TDA offers bursaries and a platform for artists into professional employment. One of the programs most celebrated alumni is Ishy Din – writer of the play Snookered Coincidently I remember watching this remarkable play at the Oldham Colosseum in 2012, but at the time had no idea who Tamasha were and what the company promoted. I just thought at the time that is was refreshing to see a play which celebrated the countries strong Pakistani community. The writer has been magnanimous in his praise for the company and attributes his early success to the work TDA does in giving emerging artists a voice.
“I am a writer and without Tamasha I’d still be a taxi driver. My voice as a northern Asian would be muted and my attempts to open a window on a largely unexplored world would be firmly shut.”
Ishy Din, writer of Snookered.
This, in my opinion, further augments the importance of programs such as TDA. More really needs to be done to activate and engage BAME artists.
Another exciting facet of the company is its outreach work. The company nurtures new talent through its playwrighting courses taught in schools and through empowering educators to work with all students by giving language and cultural context in the classroom the same currency. The companies model aims to build confidence, promote dialogue and cultural understanding, and produce mature, multi-lingual devised performance.
I’ve been really inspired by the work that Tamasha has achieved and for the ideas that the company fights to promote. I value and am proud the cultural diversity that makes up this country and only wish more would be done to offer a wider and more equal representation on stage. Theatre has the capacity to challenge and incite change. But this can only be achieved if the industry looks at itself and makes more progressive and radical change within itself!!!