Theatre industry is guilty of institutional racism, managers admit

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The Independent Culture

Britain's theatre industry has been accused of institutional racism in a report that calls for radical change.

There is a "distinct lack of representation" from the black and Asian communities in the industry, according to the report, Eclipse, published yesterday by the Arts Council of England and the Theatrical Management Association. Their study, researched in 1998-99, found only one in 25 theatre workers came from an ethnic-minority background. It also found that 23 out of 463 board members of theatres were non-white, and none was from an Asian background.

The report called for "positive action plans" to develop opportunities for black and Asian people in the theatre. Peter Hewitt, chief executive of the Arts Council, said the report aimed "to change the mindset and artistic theatre practice to reflect the diverse society of England in the 21st century".

He stressed that the report, which was compiled in collaboration with East Midlands Arts and the Nottingham Playhouse, was not accusing individual theatres or managers of racism. "What this industry-led report does say is that there is a distinct lack of representation of black and Asian communities at board level, on the staff, in the programming and in the audiences of regional theatres."

He added: "Implementing the recommendations in Eclipse will need commitment, financial investment and courage, but will benefit not only the arts, but society in this country as a whole."

Maggie Saxon, president of the Theatrical Management Association and managing director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, said: "The Eclipse report is more than just another piece of paper which will circulate around the system to little result. It will bring in results – very important ones."

The report recommended theatre senior managers review their equal-opportunities policy annually and report back to their boards.

The Arts Council and other theatre bodies intend to monitor the employment of Afro-Caribbean and Asian actors in the theatre over the next year.

The need for an independent monitoring group to assess how the report's recommendations are implemented was also outlined in the report.

The study was prompted by findings in the Macpherson report in 1999, which used the Stephen Lawrence murder case to draw attention to institutional racism in the police.