Diversity in British Drama Schools

There has been a lot of talk recently about the levels of diversity, or lack thereof, within the theatre industry in the UK. Many people and studies have highlighted the fact that stage schools, productions and professions throughout the industry are still predominantly white, with little being done to encourage diversity and some examples of specifically discriminatory behaviour being reported. We’ve found some interesting viewpoints while debating the subject this month, including the following.

Do the arts promote diversity? It is obviously good to see governments supporting the arts. This is especially important when local authorities are modelling ever deeper cuts to their arts provision, and there is significant fear associated with the future of arts education in schools.

However, there are problems in the rhetoric surrounding the celebrations of art history A level. The fundamental problem with connecting the arts to social mobility and workforce diversity is that this connection is seriously undermined by almost all the available social scientific evidence.”

The article above opens discussing the benefits of government support for the arts, including theatre specifically, but criticises the arts on the whole for “maintaining social divisions” as opposed to challenging them.

This perspective is particularly interesting, since it is supported by a surprising amount of archaic evidence. Based on the social class, attitudes and actions of the people who facilitate education within the arts sector, and looking at the disproportionate numbers of people studying and working in the field from privileged backgrounds, it’s not hard to make a link which directly counteracts the point of the original government statement being discussed.

In the last week there has been significant buzz generated on social media after a report was released on the state of diversity in the UK, backed by Andrew Lloyd Webber who made some damning comments blaming drama schools for the problem.

Call to action after theatre industry branded “hideously white” “Leading theatre directors have called on the British Asian community to do more to support performers and writers after a damning report branded the industry “hideously white”. The report, commissioned by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, said the odds are “stacked against minorities” as the lead actor is often white.”

The report looked in detail at the actors in London theatre productions as well as the demographics they were catering to. It found that extremely high proportions of people were white and from privileged backgrounds in both cases. Meanwhile, opportunities for black and Asian actors, among other minorities, were found to be few and far between.

On the other hand, many people still strongly believe in the power of drama, theatre and the arts in general as a force for bringing people together across social boundaries. In many instances it is certainly true that the impact of people from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds being on stage or on screens cannot be underestimated. The problem appears to surround the fact that opportunities for this to happen are too rare.