Class is often absent from discussions about diversity in theatre but it remains a barrier for audiences, actors and others in the industry. What’s the solution?
In 1979, giving a talk at Cambridge University, the theatre-maker John McGrath insisted that “there is a working-class audience for theatre in Britain which makes demands, and which has values, which are different from those enshrined in our idealised middle-class audience”. His manifesto for making popular theatre for the working classes, later published as A Good Night Out, was hugely influential. Yet almost 40 years later, McGrath’s observation that the theatre’s values are “firmly those of acceptability to a metropolitan middle-class audience” rings as true as ever.
Within theatre – and within the arts more broadly – class continues to separate and exclude both artists and audiences. “I think it’s embedded and it won’t move,” says Rhiannon White, co-artistic director of theatre company Common Wealth and author of a recent report on class and the creative industries. “I think class is massive; it’s at the centre of the profession.” The statistics back her up: the Warwick Commission’s 2015 report found that the wealthiest, best educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population were still the most “culturally active”.
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