Time for a Revolution in Actor Training?
In the wake of the search for a new Artistic Director at the Globe in preparation of Emma Rice’s imminent departure, our Artistic Director calls for a revolution in the arts, starting with the actor training sector. Who’s in?
At a time when so much noise is made of the need for different voices to be heard, the heralded and well-intentioned buzz phrases of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ ring loud in our minds- it is time to stop talking and simply start doing. This is of course not an issue exclusively concerned with the arts, it is a wider social, political and cultural issue that has permeated the arts like a cancer as it has every other area of British life for generations.
Yet discrimination, exclusion and persecution are the things that most of us in the arts are passionately driven by in the stories we tell. So why not take responsibility for the presence of these elements in our own community and change it? I don’t mean by putting out casting calls for ‘BAME’ actors to tick a box. No. I mean genuinely doing something. ‘BAME’ is demonstrative, ‘BAME’ is not inclusive. The eradication of the acronym in this context due to it no longer being required to force or demonstrate inclusivity and representation would be real change.
As a middle-aged white man I am often embarrassed. Not by my hair loss or my paunch, this I accept as consequences of my years. But I mean, how many forums and conferences can the mildly mannered and well-meaning liberal elite have before they actually create some change?
Intentions are good, I do not question that, I genuinely don’t, but the apathy is overwhelming. ‘Great conference on diversity’ you read on twitter and in blog posts on a regular basis…yet again, nothing. No change. Nothing of real substance. Just more articulate yet empty words.
There is so much lip service to this argument it is astounding, in an age when so much more should and could be happening it is uninspiring at best to hear established yet jaded institutions, companies and even drama schools still frozen in time talking of quotas and the like as a remedy.
Is this really the destination of this long and winding argument?
If it is, then is it not time for the whole industry, to holler, halt and take a long hard look at doing things differently and from a totally different perspective?
There are a host of campaigns currently making a ruckus in the wider industry, ‘Act for Change’ and ‘Actor Awareness’ are two that spring to mind, yet there are many others all trying to make us sit up and take note of the age-old issues still reverberating throughout our industry. The newborn ‘Diversity School’ is another exciting addition to the movement. They all deserve praise in trying to address the imbalances in regard to the representation of minority voices and those from less privileged backgrounds. I think it’s fair to say a majority of us would prefer not to see yet another Oxbridge English graduate turned actor representing the masses of us ‘normal’ folk within the arts. Especially true when the likes of Damian Lewis, who without irony described himself as a minority due to him being schooled at Eton in a recent interview reaffirm the point. We’d like to see more normalised representations of normal on a more regular basis to encourage more normal in wouldn’t we?
Not a revolutionary concept, demystifying an accessible yet seemingly elitist art form to a much wider demographic. Something Emma Rice was most certainly succeeding in doing in her first season at The Globe before she was stunningly stunted in her efforts.
One of the most dynamic and gifted directorial talents the UK has to offer (also by way of coincidence she happened to be a woman of course) known as the lesser spotted theatre director in general theatrical parlance. One who was determined to reimagine Shakespeare for a modern audience in a theatre that until present has been artistically directed with talented yet timid wands of theatrical wizardry without ever being able to get away from the fact that the whole project, since conception felt somewhat like an Elizabethan theme park.
Within one quick sweep of the stage Rice entered stage left proclaimed a 50/50 male/female representation on the stage- hurrah! Offered an exciting and dynamic approach for young audiences to work she herself as a student had been disenchanted by due to the manner in which it was taught- again raise a glass! In addition, her first season broke box office records and shifted a time-warped theatrical venture into the modern age- give that woman a rise! Right?
Within weeks of the season closing she’s bafflingly informed she’s out of touch with what the theatre and it’s audiences needed. Booted off stage right before taking a bow.
This is the first implausible tragedy, yet there is a second…
For the best part of a year now I have discussed and debated this deflating demise of one of the most exciting and inspiring contemporary theatre voices with my informed, motivated final year students, each to a woman and man bewildered by the events at The Globe. Each somewhat disenfranchised by a decision that calls into question their entire expectation of the limitless world of imagination, inclusion and creativity they believe the world of the arts to be.
We have to reinvigorate, reimagine what theatre is and it starts by breaking down the DNA of what theatre training itself is and how we want to view the arts as a whole in the 21st century.
And please let it be noted that simply adding another black face to a graduating year group in response to the current ‘frenzy’ of noise is not enough of a ‘token’ to celebrate an active participation in genuine change. The change genuinely comes from us as an industry looking at our exclusivity and unapologetic white middle class male snobbery and shake the whole damn thing until it breaks!
It starts with who teaches our actors of tomorrow and how we encourage and inform them to view the industry, as it is after all theirs to define.
It is a policy of ours to only employ practitioners who are currently working as professionals within the industry, no institutionalised teacher, no matter how gifted crosses our threshold. This is not an inverted snobbery. It is merely our way of ensuring our learning and collective thinking is fresh, relevant and in touch with what is breaking and setting new ground now. We particularly look to those who are challenging convention. This is not to be different, it is to be relevant, diverse and of our age. It works. It’s also exciting and inspiring, much like Emma Rice.
We cast gender blind, colour blind and ability blind in all we do. We do not limit. We do not discriminate. We do not typecast. We do not pigeon hole or look backward to how it used to be. In short, and in simple terms we celebrate new thinking. That’s all it is. We are open and like to open doors. Wouldn’t it be lovely if this was the industry we lived in, one that wasn’t so afraid of it’s own shadow? Just like the one Emma Rice was cut so short of shaping at The Globe.
The revolution awaits. I do hope it comes soon I really do, none of us are getting any younger…but in the meantime we’ll settle for a continued drive for evolution, borne of those who share our philosophies and desire for inclusivity and boldness of mind. Rules are there to be broken and a bold new world awaits if only we are brave enough to really go there and open the door.
Artistic Director, Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company