God, I love the Edinburgh Festival! Ever since University in the 90’s when a production I designed won a design award I’ve been a little bit in love with my summer home. It’s where I met and worked with people who have become lifelong friends. It’s even where I met my husband, 8 years ago this summer. There’s something about it that draws me back year after year, cramming as much as I possibly can into a short week, returning overly tired after a gluttonous surfeit of theatrical experiences.
My days of sleeping on a deflating air mattress in a damp basement room sharing with four other actors are over, thankfully, and as I don’t drink I’m at least guaranteed not to have the Edinburgh hangover to contend with.
I look forward to Edinburgh mainly because it gives me the opportunity to see a great number of my clients in a very short space of time but also because I use it as a kind of barometer of the type of work and the innovations in theatre that are likely to permeate out from the fringe and into mainstream theatre over the next couple of years. Combine that with a few days in NYC if I can and I always finish the year feeling as if I’ve got a pretty good measure of the theatrical temperature for the coming year.
This year I’m particularly interested in seeing as many BAME artists as I can. From my first week as an agent I have operated a 50/50 gender split across my client list. It fluctuates the odd percentage point now and then (currently it’s 49% female, 51% male) but I am concerned by the lack of diversity across my list.
I recently had to do some research into BAME diversity at drama schools and found a rough figure of about 8.5% BAME actors in this year’s graduating year group. Some schools are higher than this, many are much lower. So,my client list, which has 9% BAME artists, is at least broadly in line with the industry (interestingly those West End musicals that operate colour-blind casting also have a rough figure of around 9% BAME in the cast).
Since the 2015 Tony’s, Jeanine Tesori’s words have been on a constant loop in my brain “In order to be it, you first have to see it” and I am concerned that the low representation in the industry may be, at least partly, to blame for, not only the low numbers working at the top end of the industry, but also for the low numbers in training. Perhaps part of the problem is that BAME artists don’t see themselves represented on stage and so don’t believe that they can be it themselves.
I have set a target for myself and my junior agent of achieving a balanced list by the end of 2017; balanced in gender and ethnicity and I’m looking forward to an exciting Fringe where I hope to start this process. So, if you’re in Edinburgh, give me shout with the details of where you’re performing and I’ll try to see as much as time allows!
JBR- Simon & How Talent Agency, London, UK..