A Younger Theatre has always been a platform for those that often feel unheard and invisible but how much are we doing to support Black artists? Not enough, writes Managing Director, Sam.
I’ve always felt that A Younger Theatre – a company I have been actively involved in for seven years – has been consistent in doing what it claims to: supporting young and emerging theatre makers by giving them a platform and a voice; vital in a still vastly elitist industry and one that so often claims to be empathetic and open but doesn’t always have the goods to back it up. You know the drill.
Yep, A Younger Theatre has always done what it says on the tin – or at least tried to – and as a company made up of 16-35 year olds, (I upped it from 25 last year) we’re pretty experienced in what it feels like to be at various stages of a theatrical career: we’re still going through drama school; we’ve just graduated; we’ve realised how difficult the industry really is and now wondering if we can handle it; we think we’ve hit the big time; we have to deal with family ‘concerns’ etc etc etc. With this experience comes greater levels of empathy, which is what makes us as a company so appealing and why we’re still going after eleven years (I like to think), but, the more you feel you’re speaking to everyone, the more you feel you’re speaking for them. This is a problem.
We have a lot of content that champions and supports Black artists specifically, whether that be through reviews, interviews, and/ or self-authored pieces, and whilst I can’t speak for AYT’s past editors, I am always conscious that what we publish is as broad and diverse as possible. Not just for the sake of it, but because having a range of voices with distinct personalities and experiences makes for a significantly more interesting and inspiring publication. It’s common sense.
But this isn’t enough – I’m not doing enough as the head of A Younger Theatre to truly support Black artists because the team itself do not reflect the content and ethos we so proudly vocalise. I took over AYT late last year and it was and still is comprised of a majority white workforce. Social media callouts for ‘those that feel underrepresented’ to apply, have had some to little success but isn’t that just lazy? If I want Black artists to get in touch, shouldn’t I just say that? As a white man I am still learning that just because I think of myself as a ‘liberal’ surrounded by equally liberal friends in London, that doesn’t mean the education has stopped. It’s barely even begun.
Most of the people who work for AYT are volunteers. Being unable to pay your workforce obviously brings inevitable challenges, not least in acting as a deterrent when trying to grow the team. We’ve lost pretty much all of our income through advertising – because nobody has the budget right now – but I am optimistic about the future. How ironic considering the shit show we’re in. But I am.
We need to do more to support Black artists and half-hearted attempts to show you’re doing so, like the odd social media callout is not enough. It’s inactive, it’s lazy and it’s not going to change very much. My priority right now is to get a healthy and constant flow of dosh so I can reach out to the many brilliant Black artists whose work I admire and discuss potential commissions and going forwards I want AYT to have Black artists in both editorial and other senior creative roles. It’s baffling that so many journalists and theatre makers are still predominantly white and that the team they are surrounded by are too. Where the hell’s the creativity? Where’s the fire?
Complacency is just not acceptable and for us white, self-identified ‘liberals’, it’s vital we continue to examine the privilege we’re so fortunate to have been born with and to constantly question what we’re doing and how we can do better. We need to do more to support Black artists and whilst it is encouraging (and about time) that so many companies are promising to do just that, actions speak a thousand times louder than words and we will just have to see what happens in the long run.
What’s next for A Younger Theatre? Well, practically speaking, I’ll continue to explore new and inventive ways of bringing in money, as well as trying to find any funding opportunities that are still out there. Most importantly though, is self-education and to continue being an active ally. It’s the very least any of us can do.
Please get in touch with us via social media (we’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram), if you’d like to chat about anything I have written here. My ‘door’ is always open.
Also, please be sure to check out and devour A Call To Action – a new project that has been put together, asking organisations, companies, theatres and festivals to disclose the amount of Black people they have had on their workforce over the last ten years, as well as information on how they plan to create a safe space for them. It is of the utmost importance that we all read and sign.