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Tanya Vital's Blog

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Hey y'all!

Guess what comes up when you Google "Yorkshire people"?

Guess What comes up when you Google Black Yorkshire Smiley

Google Search

I recently went to the brilliant Act For Change event at The National Theatre. I was so excited because I missed the launch last year and being back up north doesn't make it easy or cheap to get about. I booked my tickets super early and cancelled the diary, because come hell or high water I was going!

I wasn't sure what to expect because us BAME'rs have been to every diversity debate known to man. However I went with an open heart and mind. (See Drama School taught me something!)

Here's the full footage of the event c/o Act For Change if you missed it.

It was interesting, harrowing, scary, disappointing, heartbreaking, liberating and brilliant all in one but, one thing that stuck out and has been a bone of contention of mine for a long time - that led me to write this blog was...

Just how London-centric our idea of diversity is

Chris Bryant the Labour MP and now Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was on the panel and he made a point at 55:00 on-wards, that theatre/arts outside of London is in danger and that 90% of  arts sponsorship is all spent in London. He made some other comments - some of them silly but, the 1st point was not. 

90% of all Arts Sponsorship is spent in London 

This is worrying for all of us in the regions and has been a worry since the last coalition Government, where many regional theatre companies had their entire arts council funding removed and in turn folded. This blow was even harder for the very few black/minority lead regional theatre groups who now no longer exist at all.

With all this talk of "diversity", "representation" and "quotas", you'd think that we were on the road to recovery in the arts, that BAME'rs were finally being heard and taken seriously and progression was on the way. I actually think we are on the precipice of change but we MUST be careful!

I found an alarming trend that has plagued me throughout my career. It affects every part of the industry when it comes to BAME artists/workers in the entertainment industry and is getting worse;

When we talk about diversity in the arts 
we often mean BAME London.

There is belief held by many people of power in the arts, that there are no good artists outside of London. It is said to people in the regions time and time again as if it were a gospel truth. This means anybody of any notable excellence (in their eyes) is only based in London.

 I know this to be wholly preposterous because A) I'm excellent and in Yorkshire  Hair Flipping Emoticon and B) I know other excellent artists also here in the north. This idea becomes especially solidified when they think and talk about BAME artists, particularity ethnic artists and even more so BAME females.

I've lived in London on and off for ages and I consider it as much my home as I do Yorkshire but, ethnic artists are usually not considered at all if they are not from London. Regional theatres, time and time again 'buy in' ethnic artists from the south. If there is ever an "urban", (you know I hate that word) part then 9/10 times the artist will be brought up from the south.

*Disclaimer - northern BAME artists can do "urban" too   we can also do accents and everything its ace!

It's almost inconceivable if you will, that someone of a darker skin tone would have this accent, or Geordie or Scottish for that matter (Shouts out to Siu). Brown in this country (on screen and in gentrified minds), usually means a London vernacular, so in return, BAME northerners are almost never used in the south. 

As I've mentioned in Change Your AccentQuintessential Britain and Y'up Mush! - "Buht buht buht, ducks - buht buht buht faahrms" (the phonetic sound of my glorious mother tongue) is never shown unless it's shown in a fetishised, quintessential idea of Yorkshire/The north. BAME north almost doesn't exist on screen or stage and yet its ALWAYS existed! Check out Joe Williams and Heritage Corner

This saddening state of affairs was made even clearer to me when I recently had an issue I wanted to take to the Minority Ethnic Members (MEM) Committee of the Equity Union. Each of the committee members were based in London. I also didn't see all of the wonderful BAME artists I know from the north at the Act For Change event. (This isn't about allocating blame it's just an observation that we are quite marginalised up here which, I believe, is leading to a complete disconnect to the industry). Many artists in the North - BAME or not, do not feel that they are taken into consideration by the industry.

It's important that national publicly funded theatres and creative establishments (especially the regionals!) take into account the whole country and not just London. I get it - it's easy to forget when you're actually IN London (as Rufus almost did in the video), that there is another world but we are here.

You see it's a bit like Game of Thrones in essence and here's why:

  • Winter is coming - The Arts cuts are going to hit us all HARD
  • Winterfell/Casterly Rock/Kings Landing - are all on their arse without the allies of the north
  • Jon Snow (The love of my life) is holding an olive branch - we must work together

I am doing what I can. I am trying to get more involved with the Yorkshire Ridings General Branch of Equity. I'm trying even harder to get more involved with the (MEM) Committee of the Equity. I do try to write my own material. I am trying to be the change I want to see and there are many. many more like me, especially Anamaria at CidaCo, George at Sustained Theatre Arts Yorkshire and Stephanie at West Yorkshire Theatre Network.

All we ask is that when you talk about diversity
you don't leave us out

Stiff Drink for whoever translates the most of these sayings!

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