Andrew Lloyd Webber labels British theatre 'hideously white' in call for diversity

The award-winning composer has stated the medium must reflect the UK population at large if it hopes to survive 

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The Independent Culture

Andrew Lloyd Webber has stated that diversity is crucial to the future survival of British theatre, labelling the industry as "hideously white".

The award-winning composer - known for the likes of Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and Jesus Christ Superstar -  penned the introduction to a report addressing the lack of BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) individuals working both onstage and off (via The Guardian), commissioned earlier this year by the Andrew Lloyd Webber foundation. 

Lloyd Webber confessed he was alarmed by the findings of the report, authored by Danuta Kean, an arts, media and publishing analyst, and Mel Larsen, an arts consultant; the pair stating, "white middle classes still dominate audiences” and that "even in London, where the BAME population is now 44%, audiences outside specialist theatres and theatre groups remain overwhelmingly white".

His introduction to the report states, "I passionately believe that the stage needs to reflect the diversity of the UK population or it risks becoming sidelined".

He further warns, "if the situation continues, there is real danger that, not only will black and Asian young people stay away from the theatre as a profession, they will stay away as punters. And without them in the audience, theatres will become unsustainable, as they are forced to compete for a dwindling ageing, white, middle-class audience."

The report states the odds are "stacked against minorities in a profession where the default lead is white unless specifically written for a black or Asian actor"; leaving many BAME actors relegated to "secondary roles as hoods, hoodlums and hookers". 

Covering all genres of live theatre, the report does praise musical theatre for "challenging the monoculture" thanks to successful, diverse productions such as Motown the Musical; however, these shows have in turn laid bare the failures of drama schools to balance diversity in their own quarters, leading to a shortage of actors suitable for these roles and even the cancellation of some touring productions. 

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Lloyd Webber reveals he found the same issue when acting as producer on A.R. Rahman's Bombay Dreams in 2002, which struggled to find enough Asian actors to fill the roles.

He stresses that the push for diversity in theatre shouldn't be limited merely to creating roles on stage; as "I’ve been acutely aware that one of the biggest issues is the lack of trained diverse talent coming through. Casting directors and theatre producers alike often complain that they’d like to cast more BAME performers, but that they don’t get enough turning up to audition."

The report thus calls for a push for action which not only covers encouraging "a more culturally diverse workforce" with "colour blind" casting and more plays by BAME writers, but urges drama schools to make 50% of their places accessible to students from low-income backgrounds and for funding bodies such as the Arts Council England to offer resources to aid BAME individuals in theatre. 

With musical productions such as Dreamgirls, The Scottsbro Boys, and Thriller Live helping to challenge the monoculture - alongside the upcoming London production of the Broadway smash Hamilton - there's hope these diverse attitudes to theatre can spread to the rest of the industry.

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