The Olivier Awards have come and gone for this year, with many well deserved wins across the board, I was especially pleased with Gypsy winning so many awards, truly well deserved in my opinion. But in the wake of the Olivier Awards, I was not happy with many aspects, and I was left contemplating diversity (or lack thereof) in theatre.
As pointed out by Dominic Cooke and Denise Gough as well as others, there is a startling lack of representation in the theatre, especially when it comes to racial diversity. As the award ceremony went on it became more apparent at the lack of diversity in the nominations; but it was especially evident during the final number from A Chorus Line “What I Did For Love”. Here, the previous winners of the best actress and best supporting actress in a musical category came together to perform, the vast majority of these women being white. I cannot dispute their talent, and of course they would not be where they are today if they were not good at what they do, but lack of diversity comes from lack of opportunities. Colour-blind casting is a rarity and often people of colour do not have the opportunity for a role because of their skin colour.
The pandering to diversity was also evident for me, if you have read my review of Kinky Boots then you will know that I was not enamoured with it. However, amid the other nominations at the Olivier’s, it suddenly seemed obvious to me that this was almost the ‘token’ show displaying diversity, unfortunately – for me at least – this is done stereotypically and panders almost embarrassingly to the diverse ideal. The role of Lola is presented as though it is meant to be surprising and controversial; but this only comes across as a forced stereotype, attempting diversity.
One project which is striving to change the lack of diversity is The Act For Change Project. The Act For Change Project is a project campaigning for equal representation regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, age or disability. THE ACT FOR CHANGE PROJECT has a simple mission: to strengthen diversity in the live and recorded arts, and to communicate to the unrepresented audiences that a future exists with them firmly featured in it. To that end they’re campaigning to ensure that the live and recorded arts – honestly and without prejudice – represent the Britain we live in today. (http://www.act-for-change.com)
It is true to say that this is a universal problem that extends to all forms of arts, especially film and Hollywood. But twenty-first century theatre should be aspiring for more. British theatre is being overtaken and left behind, we should be striving for better. There’s really no excuse for lack of diversity in this day and age.