Throughout the festival we’ll be asking the artists involved to respond to pertinent questions surrounding our PLATFORM debates.
This week we ask writer and performer of CHEWING GUM DREAMS, Michaela Coel, to respond to the question;
How do we imagine a more diverse and accessible theatrical landscape?
Three things: Economics, writing, and advertising.
I went to a platform at the Nash (the National Theatre) the other day about this very thing, but it was rather specific to a black audience: "How to get black audiences into the theatre?".
I kinda thought that was a bit silly- I don’t think it’s “black” people that don’t go to the theatre, it’s more those who can’t afford the bloody theatre that don’t go.
But we can’t just leave it there, we can’t just say “they can’t come because they can hardly afford rent”. My whole family live in a shaggy little council flat right now, but I’d find £50 to go and see Adele in concert any bloody day. Why? Firstly because she’s advertised to me constantly and the music industry have spent years gearing me up; for videos I can watch for FREE, for iTunes tracks that I can download for 99p; I’ve tasted her art at a price I can afford and now that I KNOW it’s good, I’ll pay £50 quid if that’s what it takes to experience her music live.
I think theatre needs to listen to the language of the music industry, I’m not saying release audio scenes of Jerusalem on iTunes for 99p, but I am saying it’s time to think of innovative ways to reach a wider audience and there’s something in what the music industry does that I believe the theatre industry can capitalise on.
Secondly, we could argue it’s the responsibility of the writers. At the Nash I also heard someone say that only certain groups in society attend the theatre because they are the only groups portrayed on stage and people go to the theatre to see themselves.
Now I think this is kind of true to a small extent. Writers…if you want a diverse audience it might help to write diverse characters into your plays, and this isn’t entirely based on physical appearance, I went to see Three Sisters today and I saw myself. I saw diversity on stage, not necessarily in the physical appearance of the actors but in the lives of the characters, and yes I really did see myself.
Writers/directors that have the power to get their plays produced in renowned theatres like the National need to start diversifying their characters (and yes, actors), if they care for diversifying their audience.
And what happens when it’s done? When the writer writes a couple of ‘chavs’ a ‘posh black person’ and an 'Asian guy' into their plays? They still can’t get a diverse crowd. Because – and this leads me to my final point, it’s the advertising, and how theatre is advertised that prevents us from diversifying it. Most of us don’t read the Guardian, or any other place where theatre is advertised. I’m fortunate enough to have gone to Guildhall for 3 years and now know how to find out what’s on, but I’m a rare case (I could probably count on my fingers the number of black, Asian and working class actors in the Top 4 drama schools in the UK…well I bet I could anyway). Which brings me back to my first point- if you’re trying to speak to different people, use a different language, one they are fluent in.
But after all of my gibberish is said and done I think the key question is - do we even give a shit anyway? The regular theatre audiences have not been failing to sell out productions of late and if and when that happens, only then will the puppeteers in the industry do anything serious in an attempt to reach a wider audience. At the National someone also suggested it was the responsibility of the audience to support the theatre. I don’t believe it's up to the audience, they do not have a responsibility to support the theatre just as a working class mother is not responsible for keeping Waitrose in business.
They told me 250 words…that’s just never going to happen it’s either 140 characters for twitter, or 800 words minimum for everything else in life.
More on Michaela
Michaela Coel is a writer and performer. She is a Graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the winner of the 2011's Laurence Olivier Bursary Award for Best Student Actress. As a playwright is currently long listed for the Alfred Fagon Award for CHEWING GUM DREAMS.
Follow her on twitter @michaelacoel
More on CHEWING GUM DREAMS
CHEWING GUM DREAMS
Presented by the Yard Theatre in association with the Bush Theatre as part of RADAR 2012
Tracey Gordon, the 67 bus, friendship, sex, UK garage, school, music, teachers, friendship, periods, emergency contraceptive, arse and tits, friendship, raves, tampons, white boys, God, money. Friendship. Aaron, Candice, sex and Connor Jones.
Chewing Gum Dreams is a one-woman play that recalls those last days of innocence before adulthood.
Interested in this debate? Feel like contributing your thoughts?
Join us at our opening Platform of RADAR 2012;
ONE IDEA THAT COULD CHANGE OUR THEATRE LANDSCAPE
The Bush asks 5 influential thinkers and artists to share one dangerous, revolutionary idea, to provoke our understanding of what theatre should be.
This platform includes the announcement of the Bush's new literary policy.
Speakers include Chris Goode and Madani Younis
Weds 7 Nov, 7.30pm
Tickets: £10 including entry to performance of Chewing Gum Dreams by Michaela Cole following the platform. BOOK NOW
*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are purely the opinions of the author and not that of Bush Theatre.*