My name is Romana Flello, I am the Head of Creative Engagement at Kiln Theatre and chair of the London Theatre Consortium’s Creative Learning group. I sit on the Drama, Theatre and Education Alliance representing the London Theatre Consortium(which is made up of 14 London National Portfolio Organisations). Through the London Theatre Consortium, we have worked for the last seven years on what is now named the Representation in Drama initiative.
We have heard most eloquently from Tania and Noah and my colleagues, the benefits of participation in the Drama and Theatre for children and young people, economics and society. When advocating for keeping the drama alive, we must ensure we mean ALL children and young people. That no matter how you identify, theatre and drama, with all the rich benefits we’ve heard, feel like a place for you. That you are entitled to hear and make stories which reflect and represent the global community in which we live.
Theatre’s have a responsibility to programme work by writers and theatre makers from the global majority, who are working class, disabled, LGBT+ and this being part of Arts Council England’s creative case for diversity is welcome. We also have a responsibility to ensure the performers, creatives, crew, leaders of our buildings, senior management and staff are representative of our global society and that the industry is set up in a way which supports everyone to work in this industry as their whole self.
And yet, theatre staff and programming are not always reflective of the society in which we live and of course this is due to institutional and systemic imbalances butI also believe there is a direct correlation between this and the lack of representation in our classrooms. If you don’t see it, how can you be it?
The media young people engage with outside of the classrooms is on global platforms, it is reflective of the world in which we live, and yet the work they study in their classrooms does not reflect this.
In 2022, Bloomsbury Publishing reported2 that 96% of A-Level drama texts taught for English Literature were by white playwrights. 93% of teachers surveyed wanted to see a more ethnically diverse range of writers offered by exam boards and 66% said they needed support to teach texts that tackle issues relating to race or ethnicity. 0% of students answered an exam question on a play by a Global Majority writer in England in 2019. This lack of representation creates barriers to participation, creating additional barriers to sustainable careers in the arts for those from under-represented backgrounds.
Please note, I use English Literature statistics here as there are no official reports for Drama but informally we know that until 2021 and the work achieved through Representation in Drama, 100% of set texts studied for Drama were by white playwrights.
When children and young people see that the set texts, which are seen as the important texts, the texts for examination, are written by and feature only one demographic, then it is reinforced that there is only one demographic in our society who are worth studying, who are worth validating and who are worth celebrating.
It is time for better representation for everybody’s benefit, to ensure that everybody feels dignity and belonging in classrooms, theatres and society. When working with young people over several years on this initiative, we have been consistently told that they often do not or have not seen themselves or their peers represented in the work which they study or perform. In order for students to see theatre as relevant for them, to be lifelong audiences, to see Theatre as a viable career, to become Drama teachers, to take up the arts at GCSE or to utilise the transferrable skills the arts have to offer, they have to see that there are people who are like them and people who are not like them in the work they study, watch, listen to, and perform.
As we’ve heard, Drama and Theatre teach empathy, community, expression and teamwork – to name a few of the benefits. If all stories and experiences are engaged with by young people in classrooms, then the divisive world in which we find ourselves in, might not exist.If we begin to hear and understand and empathise with one another’s stories, of stories which have been historically marginalised, then fear and hatred which often come from a lack of understanding or exposure would not be so prevalent. We have to shift the narratives around who holds power and whose work is valued in our classrooms. All identities need to be validated.
Over the last seven years, myself, creative practitioner mezze eade and other LTC colleagues have worked closely with exam boards, held symposia for industry professionals, teachers and young people and led workshops for teachers and lecturers across the country to support the teaching of Drama which is representative of the society in which we live.
Through this work, three of the four exam boards have been supported to add new set texts to their set text lists and to create resources which support teachers to teach these new texts. We have seen the writers who feature on the set text lists finally begin to move away from being entirely white playwrights who are mostly men, to the addition of several new texts by writers who are more representative of our country and our young people.
However, through consultation, teachers have informed us that they want to teach new texts, practitioners and stimuli by global majority, female, LGBT+, disabled writers but lack the time , resources and confidence to be able to do so. If Drama were to be more valued as a subject, if it were to appear on the national curriculum and if a stipulation of the curriculum were that young people study a diverse range of texts, practitioners and stimuli which reflect the global society in which we live, then I believe that all young people would feel they belong in our classrooms, have the right to express themselves, see the arts as a viable career and feel valued in our society.
Head of Creative Engagement at Kiln Theatre and chair of the London Theatre Consortium’s Creative Learning Group