Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence




  The Black Regional Initiative in Theatre (BRIT) developed out of the Regional Black Theatre Initiative set up by the Arts Council in the early 1990s. BRIT is a key strategic fund of Arts Council England that aims at a more equitable black and Asian theatre in England.

  BRIT aims at providing a holistic approach to change and development across theatre in England. In particular, strategic action has been taken in three specific areas:

    1.  Opportunities for black and minority ethnic theatre artists in the mainstream of English theatre.

    2.  Tackling institutional racism through action in relation to governance and management practice.

    3.  Audience development for black and minority ethnic work and encouraging black and minority ethnic audiences generally.

  BRIT provides a variety of opportunities for black and minority ethnic theatre artists. A network of venues, developed since the mid-1990s, to assist new and aspiring theatre artists and companies in developing touring, form the basis of BRIT.

  Each organisation takes an entirely independent approach to the development of black and Asian work. This includes commissioning new work, developing artists, youth theatre, audiences and training.

  The Haymarket Theatre, Leicester has a focus on the development of Asian work and audiences and is the first regional repertory theatre in England to appoint an Asian co-Artistic Director, Kully Thiarai. In Huddersfield, the collaboration between a black arts centre and a regional presenting theatre has seen a range of culturally diverse programming and audience development initiatives, supported by an outreach worker. In Bristol, a similar collaboration has seen the development of black writers.

  Other activity includes a series of debates among leading culturally diverse artists about the making of theatre to inform thinking on the future of theatre in the 21st century.

Eclipse Conference and Report

  Following the Eclipse Conference on developing strategies to combat institutional racism in theatre in June 2001, Arts Council England published the Eclipse Report in April 2002, in partnership with Nottingham Playhouse, Arts Council East Midlands and the TMA. The report contains 21 recommendations, focusing on:

    —  Governance

    —  Audience development

    —  Employment and training

    —  Equality of opportunity

    —  Positive action

    —  Programming of Black work

  Since the publication of the report, seminars and surgeries have taken place in every region for senior managers and board members of regional subsidised theatres, touring companies and a number of presenting theatres on Equality of Opportunity and Positive Action. This has started to see a range of activities and awareness being developed across the country.

  These were followed in Autumn 2004 with regional seminars in collaboration with TMA for chairs of boards, and surgeries for all regularly funded theatre organisations on planning and writing Race Equality Action Plans. This work has been evaluated and fed into the Arts Council England Race Equality Scheme.

  In depth work is also being undertaken to develop awareness and touring of culturally diverse work to rural touring circuits and training needs of promoters in programming BME companies. This incorporates work with the Pride of Place companies, funded to tour to rural areas of England.

Eclipse Theatre

  The development of quality black work in middle scale theatre was one of the gaps identified through the Theatre Review. Led by Nottingham Playhouse together with Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Birmingham Repertory Theatre a consortium was formed to produce one piece of quality black work to tour on the middle scale on an annual basis. The producing theatres are joined by a network of presenting theatres, each one committed to programming culturally diverse performing arts. These venues are supported by Arts Council England Touring Department's Promoter Development Fund, providing opportunities to share good practice, particularly in the areas of marketing and audience development.

  The first production for Eclipse Theatre, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, directed by Paulette Randell, toured in the spring 2003. The second production, a new adaptation of Mother Courage toured nationally in Spring 2004. The third production, Sweet Little Thing, by Roy Williams will open at Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich in February 2005 before touring nationally.

  Eclipse Theatre provides opportunities for training for individuals and black writers who wish to create work for larger stages, as well as developing and sharing audience development strategies.


  Work is being undertaken in collaboration with Equity to ascertain the number of culturally diverse Equity members in employment within the English regional subsidised theatre industry over a period of six months. This will give a baseline for the future.

  Working with Creative People the number of individuals working in theatre will be identifies, along with their aspirations for future development and employment in the theatre industry.

  Work with BECTU has started in developing opportunities for BME individuals to undertake training and employment in technical work in theatre, first mapping BME individuals who have undertaken technical training through accredited courses over the last three years. In January 2005, BECTU and BRIT will develop an agreed strategy for technical theatre training for BME individuals.

Rural Touring

  Working with the National Rural Touring Forum and Pride of Place companies, BRIT, together with a number of BME artists has developed an strategy to develop awareness of culturally diverse artists, attendance at decibel Performing Arts Showcase, training where appropriate, and opportunities for commissioning and touring BME work to rural areas.

South Asian Theatre Touring Consortium

  Working with Arts Council London a consortium of venues has been established to programme and promote South Asian theatre. At the centre of this is a focus on audience development for the venues and touring companies. The consortium will also increase opportunities of touring companies profile in the London area. The consortium is supported with two bursaries for a South Asian Audience Development worker and a South Asian Producer.

Writer Development

  2004 saw a major pilot partnership between BRIT, ROOTS, BBC Radio Drama, Local Radio and regional theatres in Birmingham, Leicester and Hampstead. This has developed new voices and writers from community groups for local and national radio, and seen three commissions for Radio 4 to be broadcast in May 2005. Each theatre has established relationships with new writers that may lead to future commissions, as well as opportunities for audience development.

  A training programme, through Eclipse Theatre, has seen the development of 10 BME writers, five of which are now attached to regional theatres, Contact, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Nottingham Playhouse.

  Through BRIT, three black/Asian writers in residence will be based at Birmingham, Ipswich and Manchester Contact/Peshkar, the latter developing skills in participatory and youth theatre.


  The aim of the decibel legacy development programme is to establish effective mechanisms for supporting artistic excellence within the BME-led sector and to identify a number of key organisations and individuals with the potential to play a strategic role in strengthening the sector. We have undertaken a scoping exercise into development best practice to identify what has worked well and what has not. decibel is working with 21st century organisations, Race Equality Scheme and the Capital department of Arts Council England.

Race equality scheme

  For the arts to play a vital role the Arts Council believes the arts need to be relevant to the many, not just the few. The Race Equality Scheme is the primary mechanism for the Arts Council to achieve the race equality goals as stated in the Arts Council's Corporate Plan 2003-06. The scheme states that the Arts Council will:

    —  promote good practice and cooperation in race equality across the organisation;

    —  make sure that local, regional and national organisations are consulted when identifying good practice;

    —  consult regularly on new policy developments with target groups, for example through appropriate staff networks;

    —  consult with other staff groups to encourage wider ownership of the race equality agenda;

    —  conduct annual staff attitude surveys that highlight where Arts Council England stands in relation to our aims;

    —  make sure that all Arts Council policies take race equality into consideration;

    —  support Black and minority ethnic artists and organisations as necessary to enable them to create and develop projects that encourage their greater confidence and self-sufficiency in developing arts for their own communities and for society as a whole.

  The scheme includes an action plan, which details how the Arts Council will incorporate the principles and commitment in the race equality scheme into all other Arts Council policies and procedures.

Stages of Sound

  Stages of Sound is a pilot project between the BBC and Arts Council England. The aim of Stages of Sound is to generate ideas, talent and open up a debate about cultural diversity. Pathways for writers, actors, directors and producers will be created from grassroots communities through to regional theatres, local radio and commissions for national radio networks. This project is a deep talent search.

  The pilot project will take place in London, Birmingham and Leicester. There will be one project per region. Writers will work with community groups to write a radio script. Each play will receive a rehearsed reading in the regional theatre; some of the script will be broadcast on local radio. A commission from each region will generate work to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in May 2005.

  The regional theatres to be included in the project are: Hampstead Theatre, London, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Leicester Haymarket.

  The project will be managed by Shabina Aslam, BBC Radio Drama Diversity Director, assisted by a co-ordinator, who will be based at the Arts Council. Each regional project will be managed by a working party made up of a Radio Drama producer, Roots Co-ordinator, local radio producer and a Literary Manager/Artistic Director from the regional theatre. Dramaturgical support will also be available from the BBC Writers Room.

  The Roots Co-ordinator will act as a grassroots facilitator for the project in their region. The writers will receive dramaturgical support from the Radio Drama producer/Literary Manager. Essentially, though, each regional working party will be responsible for and have ownership of their project.

  The writers will be chosen by the regional working parties and will be invited to apply to the project. This project will build on writing development initiatives made by Arts Council, England and BBC Writers Room by providing further training to new Black and Asian writers. The writers will be nominated by the regional theatres, BBC Writers Room, and Arts Council England.

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Prepared 30 March 2005