who do we represent?

Speak up now

It was a late trip out and I managed to pick up a shabby daily free newspaper. Ubiquitous on London transport, they’re basically the commercial daily version of the Friday-ad, in that it is strewn with adverts trying to get you to buy from them. It’s a plus when travelling back from a theatre gig, when your phone battery is practically on its death bed, and you’ve missed Jon Snow or Krishnan Guru Murphy and that’s what article jumped out at me (not Wayne Rooney and his wonky St. George’s flag tattoo as he tries to behave like Johnny Rotten, although I did like the £1.99 McDonald’s coupons.)

Anyway, the London Lite reported that a claim has been made by a guy called Dr Samir Shah who is a non-executive director for the BBC. He’s principally stated that black and Asian people being ‘token’ represented on the box is a not a real representation.

The main point of the article was that he ‘blamed the problem on a “metropolitan, largely liberal, white, middle-class elite” for making sure ethnic minority people were on screen regardless of editorial content.’

Now, why does this sound all too familiar? I don’t think theatre can be held up as much as TV, but I do think there’s a real danger for it. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t be producing plays like Behzti, but I do feel there is a real possibility and potential chance of patronisation to be found upon the boards.

Nevertheless, I think that theatre is more culturally assure in its representation, as “editorial content”, if you can call it that, doesn’t usually take precedence when creating and so there isn’t the element of “token”. Well crafted theatre with purpose finds no compromise for this to happen.

But Shah’s other comment, and main counter movement for his stance ‘Calling for more black and Asian people to be BBC executives, he said the real positions were still filled by a “narrow culture circle”.’

Here, I couldn’t agree more. I accept that I don’t work in an executive environment, however as an outsider, I think it would be fair to find a truth behind Shah’s words.

I read the article and reflect with an awareness and analysis of the theatre of our time to not fall into this trap but to stay equal, non-patronising and true to what we want to communicate upon the stage.

There, that ain’t half bad on a midnight train to London. Who needs Jon Snow anyway, which, by the way, the reason why he isn’t reading today’s news is because he’s giving a speech at the place I’ve just been working.

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1 Comment

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One response to “who do we represent?

  1. Representation is always going to be a live debate, especially because the world we try to represent is continual flux but tokenism is always going to be just tokenism. The very idea that you can stick a black or white or green actor on stage just to tick a ‘right on’ box is an act of racism to me. However as we’ve seen in the last twenty years there is no credibility problem with black actors taking on leading roles traditionally played by white actors. This has been no more apparent than at the RSC. The theatre is a place of imagination, not just a visual reflection of reality and great actors deserve great parts.

    I think there are two fundamental questions… they need only be answered if you believe in equality. Firstly is there discrimination of opportunity? In other words are some cultural groups priviledged over others in terms of job opportunities at all levels within the theatre industry?

    Secondly, because one of our jobs is to tell the multitude of stories thrown up by society, are we, as an industry, ignoring certain cultural groups or ideas through the stories we chose to tell?

    It feels to me that if we sort out the first problem, you’ve a chance of tackling the second. If we ignore either, the theatre will become increasingly inward looking, cliquey and elitist.

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