Why Yorkshire’s theatres top a league of shame

Normally I love it when Yorkshire theatres come top in a league but this week Yorkshire theatres have come top of a league of shame.

Sheffield Theatres chief executive Dan Bates says diversity is something all theatres need to address.
Sheffield Theatres chief executive Dan Bates says diversity is something all theatres need to address.

The Arts Council this week published a report on diversity in our theatres. It found 12 theatres in the UK have work forces with fewer than five percent from ethnic minority backgrounds. Five of the 12 are from Yorkshire.

We have a problem.

The list of staff diversity in our theatres goes like this: Hull Truck, 0 percent. Harrogate Theatre, 2 percent. York Theatre Royal, 3 percent. Sheffield Theatres, 3 percent. West Yorkshire Playhouse, 4 percent.

This column is a place where myself and our other arts writers express personal opinions based on our own observations, but for this week’s column I thought it was important to contact our theatres for a response. Hull Truck told me they “recognise this is a complex issue” and they they are “committed to creating a culturally diverse organisation”. York says: “York has a white British population of over 90 percent, the theatre’s workforce reflects our local community and its recruitment policy will continue to champion equal opportunities.” Sheffield Theatres’ Dan Bates said: “The reported figures show that diversity – in all its forms – is something that we as a sector need to actively work to address. Change will take time and requires positive action and we are fully committed to making this vital change.” Harrogate said: “This is a sector-wide concern and very real change is needed. We take our responsibility to embed inclusivity very seriously.” I saw James Brining, the artistic director of West Yorkshire Playhouse, this week and he told me that the issue genuinely keeps him awake at night. They’re all good people. They all know there is a problem. They all know that when you have publicly funded organisations, you have a responsibility to reflect a changing society. But the change ain’t coming fast enough. Alex Chisholm is one of two women who recently took over Freedom Studios. A white, Oxbridge-educated woman, she has the skills to run the Bradford-based theatre company – and the social conscience to know that taking on the role of artistic director of a theatre company that represents the minority voice wasn’t really on. She would only take the role if she could share it with Aisha Khan, a British Asian woman.

This is a complex subject and one that needs to recognise the sociological and educational reasons behind the appalling lack of representation. At least we now recognise the lack is appalling and that something needs to be done.