I writing this blog from the foyer of the National Theatre, sipping expensive tea, using the world's slowest wi-fi, surrounded by white, middle class people.
Most people here are over 50, having conversations about work they've previous seen here. Some are sipping white wine (before five), eating cashews and then rearranging their scarf, others are reading Jilly Cooper and helping their partner finish the Daily Mail crossword - you might think I was exaggerating but I assure you, as I sit here on Wednesday afternoon waiting to hear Alan Bennett have a nice chat with Frances de la Tour this is what I see - the demographic of the National isn't far from the perceived stereotype.
I'm surprised that I am sitting amongst 'them' - Sir Nicholas Hytner has done a lot to build a new audience here - from Jerry Springer the Opera to London Road (the verbatim musical about murdered prostitutes), The Shed (Nationals pop-up theatre) to One Man, Two Guvnors - he's dragged it by it's Orla Kiely bag kicking and screaming from the two o'clock recital it used to be.
This homogenous, white-and-wealthy audience isn't exclusive to the NT though- in fact it's rife! Go to any of London's big art spaces and you'll find a similar demographic... but why?
What is it about modern theatre that isn't reaching out and exciting a broader demographic? Where are the young/non-white/disabled/other people hanging out? Some blame social media for ruining the fun before you even arrive; others site television and cinema as the death of the appeal of live performance.
For the sake of a balanced argument I agree that venues have thought about this, from specialist seasons to cheaper ticket prices, but I think more needs to be done to engage new audiences. Some of you might be thinking why does theatre need to be accessible? I believe god art is accessible, engaging and talks to the masses but broadly speak If these venues are funded by the public purse then it's their duty to engage with non-theatre going backgrounds - it's not just the middle classes who pay tax.
I think the sector has lazy and blind to its beige-ness. The arts would like to think of its self as a free spirited, hands holding folk fest but the reality is different. Artistic directors think reaching a black, gay, deaf demographic is putting on a black, gay, deaf play - the last time I went to the theatre it wasn't because I could really relate to Madame Thenardier in Les Mis. The same goes for marketing teams who place adverts for Bent in Attitude but not Alan Bennett'sPeople - because only gay people want to see gay plays?
It's this novelty approach to reaching diverse audiences that is dangerous and will lead to an even whiter, middle England stage - if young, working class, non-white kids are not exposed to theatre (and by theatre I don't mean Billy Elliot) how are we to expect them to be inspired to become artists?
I first realised I could become an artist when a forward thinking youth worker called Rebecca took a gang of us to see Shunt's Dance Bear Dance - my eyes were opened to the possibilities of what and where theatre was and who it was for.
In an age of increasing tuition fees further education is becoming even more difficult for working class kids to access. University will once again become a place of the privileged effecting the landscape of the arts.
Walking into this foyer this afternoon I feel like the outsider, I feel other when previously I didn't fell that walking along the South Bank - something about this is wrong.
How do we change this culture?
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