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Black, Asian and ethnically diverse theatre artistic directors and cultural leaders write open letter and call for diversity to be part of dialogue as government considers revival of sector…

Black, Asian and ethnically diverse theatre artistic directors and cultural leaders write open letter and call for diversity to be part of dialogue as government considers revival of sector…

Many of the country’s top theatre leaders have urged the government to listen as it looks at how the industry could function coming out of the coronavirus crisis…

FEARS that theatres and other organisations which nurture grassroots ethnic talent could get left behind in government plans to revive the sector has galvanised more than 50 leaders to press the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden on the issue.

In an open letter (see below) to the secretary of state for the department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), published today (May 28), the 85* directors who represent theatres and other organisations, point out that many international stars of stage and screen have emerged from the vibrant creative scene among Britain’s diverse communities – and that they must be heard as the government considers how to get the sector back up on its feet.

Matthew Xia in rehearsals Young Vic and one the four organisers of the letter

Last week, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre announced that it was feeding into a new Entertainment and Events Working Group, which will help to formulate department thinking on how the sector could be restored as the government continues to manage the coronavirus crisis. A government taskforce has been created to look into how sport, culture and theatre can resume.

Matthew Xia told the letter was composed in a matter of hours and was prompted by worries that the progress made on diversity could be now squandered unless action was taken to consider theatre from every vantage point – not just the West End or other high profile organisations.

Just some of the ethnic talent that has emerged from grassroots organisations to become Hollywood stars and namechecked in the letter

“We need to be heard and in a crisis, we know that the vulnerable and marginalised can become yet more vulnerable and further marginalised,” Xia told acv.

As the letter states, over the last ten years there has been a flourishing conveyor belt of British ethnic talent that has made it from a variety of theatre and other entry media all the way to Hollywood.

“We are concerned that Diversity could get left behind and our voices not heard.

“The pipeline that produces this talent is important and we represent a wide range of organisations, heritage and grassroots groups.”

The letter had been organised and compiled by Xia, Hannah Azieb Pool (Bernie Grant Arts Centre), Natalie Ibu (tiata fahodzi) and Kwame Kwei-Amah (The Young Vic) and others became signatories as word got out about the move.

Xia said the letter had already prompted discussions between a group of black assistant theatre directors and the letter had been shared with some similar groups and bodies outside the UK – before publication.

“We wanted to get the language right and everyone on board,” he added.

Among the signatories are Farooq Chaudhry (Akram Khan Company), Amit Sharma (Birmingham Repertory Theatre), Aisha Khan (Freedom Studios), Suba Das (High Tide), Pravesh Kumar (Rifco Theatre Company), Nadia Fall (Theatre Royal Stratford East) and Sudha Bhuchar (Bhuchar Boulevard).

Theatres have been closed since the nationwide lockdown on March 22 and as yet there is no indication of how the sector will emerge from the restrictions. Some theatres have furloughed staff and freelances have sought help through other government schemes. Dowden announced on May 21 that a government created taskforce will examine how best the arts, cultural and sporting sectors can emerge from the ongoing public health emergency.

Xia said the letter today has been acknowledged by DCMS – but it has not responded formally.

An open letter to the culture secretary from black, asian & ethnically diverse theatre artistic directors and cultural leaders on the importance of protecting representation in the sector…

Dear Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Culture,

Throughout the last decade, British theatre has led the world with regard to the Black, Asian and ethnic diversity on our stages. Many of those actors are now international names: John Boyega, Idris Elba, Gemma Chan, Dev Patel, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Benedict Wong, Cush Jumbo, Letitia Wright, the list goes on.

Equally as exciting, the last few years have seen an explosion of world-leading Black, Asian and ethnically diverse artists transforming major UK theatrical organisations, from touring, to off-West End, to pioneering regional theatres and cultural institutions. Our programming choices have demonstrated that inclusivity is a major contributor to our success.

The Covid-19 crisis threatens all aspects of the theatrical ecology, but catalysed by the revelations of the racial disparity in the health crisis, this group of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse artistic leaders call on the government and the sector to ensure the progress we have collectively made does not fall by the way-side.

We insist that ethnic diversity is protected and celebrated in policy going forwards and propose that any task-force or group gathering to speak about the future of our industry seeks out consultation from Black, Asian and ethnically diverse leaders to ensure this commitment.

We are a great British success story, and will be essential to the arts returning at full strength and playing its part in our nation’s recovery.


Keith Saha – Co-Artistic Director, 20 Stories High
Matthew Xia – Artistic Director & Joint CEO, Actors Touring Company
Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE – Director, The Africa Centre
Farooq Chaudhry OBE – Co-founder & Executive Producer, Akram Khan Company
Mehmet Ergen – Artistic Director, Arcola Theatre
Cassa Pancho MBE – Founder, Artistic Director & CEO, Ballet Black
Tarek Iskander – Artistic Director & CEO, Battersea Arts Centre
Anisa Morridadi – Founder & CEO, Beatfreeks
Corey Campbell & Justine Themen – Co-Artistic Directors, Belgrade Theatre
Hannah Azieb Pool – Artistic Director & CEO, Bernie Grant Arts Centre
Alix Harris – Artistic Director, Beyond Face
Amit Sharma – Deputy Artistic Director, Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Arike Oke – Managing Director, Black Cultural Archives
Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy & Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante – Co-Artistic Directors, Boy Blue
Gbolahan Obisesan – Artistic Director, Brixton House
Naomi Sumner Chan- Artistic Director, Brush Stroke Order
Lynette Linton – Artistic Director, Bush Theatre
An-Ting Chang – Artistic Director & CEO, Chinese Arts Now
Vinna Law – Artistic Director, Cognatus Theatre
Chenine Bhathena – Creative Director, Coventry UK City Of Culture Trust
David Tse – Artistic Director, East Zest Productions
Amanda Huxtable & Shawab Iqbal – Artistic Director, CEO & Executive Producer, Eclipse Theatre
Iskandar Sharazuddin – Co-founder, Ellandar Productions
Adrian Tang – Artistic Director, Exit Pursued By Panda
Maria Oshodi – Artistic Director & CEO, Extant
Abdul Shayek – Artistic Director & CEO, Fio Cardiff
Lucy Sheen – Founder & Artistic Director, Foundling Productions
Aisha Khan – Co-Artistic Director, Freedom Studios
Yamin Choudury – Artistic Director, Hackney Empire
Dominic Garfield & Joseph Barnes-Phillips – Co-Artistic Directors, HighRise Theatre
Suba Das – Artistic Director & CEO, HighTide
Karena Johnson – Artistic Director & CEO, Hoxton Hall
Ben Qasim Monks – Executive Director, Improbable
Anj Handa – Chair of Freedom Studios & Founder of Inspiring Women Changemakers
Sepake Angiama – Artistic Director, Institute of International Visual Arts
Indhu Rubasingham – Artistic Director, Kiln Theatre
Zhui Ning Chang – Co-Founder, Lazy Native
Kully Thiarai – Creative Director, Leeds 2023
Stella Kanu – Chair, Eclipse Theatre & Executive Director, LIFT Festival
Deborah Sawyerr – Deputy Executive Director, Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Daniel York Loh & Jennifer Lim – Founders and Co-Artistic Directors, Moongate Productions
Ria Parry – Co-Director, The North Wall
Sharon Watson – Principal & CEO, Northern School of Contemporary Dance
Clarissa Widya – Artistic Director, Papergang Theatre
Alex Chang – Co-Founder, Paradox House
Michelle Yim – Artistic Director & Producer, Red Dragonfly Theatre Productions
Pravesh Kumar – Artistic Director & CE, Rifco Theatre Company
Kathy Williams – Director, RJC Dance
Roy Alexander Weise – Co-Artistic Director, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
Pawlet Brookes- Founder, Artistic Director & CEO, Serendipity
Kevin Shen – Co-Artistic Director, Special Relationship Productions
Prema Mehta – Lighting Designer and Founder, Stage Sight
Michael Buffong – Artistic Director, Talawa Theatre Company
Suzann McLean – Artistic Director & CEO, Theatre Peckham
Nadia Fall – Artistic Director, Theatre Royal Stratford East
Ailin Conant – Artistic Director, Theatre Temoin
Natalie Ibu – Artistic Director & CEO, tiata fahodzi
Anna Nguyen & Mingyu Lin – Co-founders, Trikhon Theatre
Justin Audibert – Artistic Director, Unicorn Theatre
Vicki Amedume – Artistic Director, Upswing
Tuyet Van Huynh – Co-Founder, VanThanh Productions
Doreen Foster – Director, Warwick Arts Centre
Melanie Keen – Director, Wellcome Collection
Kumiko Mendl – Artistic Director, Yellow Earth Theatre
Kwame Kwei-Amah – Artistic Director, Young Vic
Sudha Bhuchar, founder and artistic director Boucher Boulevard
Melanie Keen – Director, Wellcome Collection
Anastasia Osei-Kuffour – Artistic Director, Wrested Veil
Vicky Ireland – Co-Artistic Director, A Thousand Cranes
Ryan Calais Cameron – Founder & Artistic Director, Nouveau Riche
Zoé Whitley – Director, Chisenhale Gallery
Alix Harris – Artistic Director, Beyond Face

*Names are still being added and the above list contains 71 names

Main image: from ‘Amsterdam’ directed by Matthew Xia for the Actors Touring Company, picture: Helen Murray

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture