Julian Bird, Chief Executive of SOLT and UK Theatre, gave evidence yesterday (23 July 2019) during the fourth session of a parliamentary inquiry into social mobility and ‘breaking the class ceiling’ in the creative sector.
The Performers’ Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group, which provides a forum for arts/culture policy in Parliament, is working alongside the trade unions of the Performers Alliance (Equity, the Musicians’ Union and the Writers Guild of Great Britain) in this inquiry.
Socio-economic background – while not classified as a ‘protected characteristic’ like gender, race and disability – has long been identified as a workforce issue in all parts of the industry. Lack of existing visible representation, affordability and sidelining of school arts engagement contribute to an unrepresentative workforce.
Julian Bird discussed the remarkable work already being done to address these issues by theatres across the UK. He talked through some of the current SOLT and UK Theatre workforce projects such as offstage theatre careers initiatives Inspiring Future Theatre; workforce diversity network Stage Sight, youth careers platform Get Into Theatre; and a soon-to-be-launched theatre casting toolkit.
The importance of supporting and sustaining careers once entry paths have been established was also recognised – and the part played by mental health and wellbeing provision in maintaining a representative workforce.
In addition, UK Theatre and SOLT spoke about ongoing policy developments, including the need to ensure that high quality placements for T Levels are accessible to young people across the UK, and for clear careers’ advice to be on offer to all in education.
To encourage a safe, supportive working environment for all in theatre and arts organisations, SOLT and UK Theatre have produced a downloadable handbook including principles to follow, legal and policy advice and other resources. We have also introduced a free, confidential 24-hour Theatre Helpline, offer a suite of Dignity at Work training, and work with Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) to develop flexible working strategies.
Julian Bird said:
‘Theatre and the creative industries are booming, and their impact on our country’s cultural and economic standing cannot be overestimated – as well as their positive influence on our community life and wellbeing. To ensure the UK remains a world leader in creative talent, we must attract and nurture a skilled workforce that is reflective of modern society.
As an industry, we have a responsibility not only to help break the ‘class ceiling’ that so many people encounter, but to provide continued support, showing that a long-term creative career can be richly rewarding, stable and lucrative.’
Alongside Julian, the inquiry heard evidence from performers Stephanie Greer and Linden Walcott-Burton, and representatives from the University of Warwick, Equity and PiPA.
Date Published: 24 July 2019