Britain’s major theater companies must nominate more people of color and working class backgrounds to higher levels to bring about real and lasting change in the industry, a British Asian artistic director has said.
Pravesh Kumar, the founder of the Rifco Theater Company, which stages productions for British Asian audiences, said: “Leadership is what we really need to look at: these are the big jobs where we need to have more diverse voices. , more representative voices.
“Boards need to change and the roles of senior executives need to change. Then you will start to see creative change.
Kumar, who received an OBE in the New Year’s Honors, said: “The change is starting to happen, but it’s not going fast enough. The pandemic will make things more difficult because [organisations] will be even more risk averse, and unfortunately people of color are often seen as risky.
“We haven’t achieved equality yet. The theater remains a predominantly white, middle-class-led industry where voices like mine are still scarce. “
Many theaters did not attract audiences from ethnic minority groups or from the working class, as most plays and productions did not reflect their experiences and interests, he said. “Even when there are people of color on stage, it’s not authentic. This is not the way we see ourselves.
Kumar, who grew up in a municipal estate in Slough, trained and worked as an actor, but never thought acting was his calling. After a stint as a British Airways check-in agent in the late 1990s, he and a few friends hosted a show called Airport 2000: Asians in Transit at Riverside Studios in West London.
He said: “It was a series of sketches, and I wrote, acted, produced and carried the set. It all happened on my credit card. We didn’t have a marketing budget, it was word of mouth. We had three shows, and they were all sold out. We were just flabbergasted to have met this audience that didn’t just come [to the theatre] but looked like us. And that was Rifco’s accidental birth.
The tour company is focused on accessible new plays and musicals that reflect and celebrate British Asian experiences. Around 30,000 people have seen Britain’s Got Bhangra, a musical about racism in the UK music industry, and over 50,000 have seen The Deranged Marriage, a play about honor and arranged marriages as part of a “Chaotic, ridiculous and over the top British Asian wedding. – which they are all besides ”.
Kumar said, “What we do is authentic and entertaining, which is often a dirty word in the theater now. We talk about issues within our community – honor, LGBTQ issues, arranged marriages – but we do it with our own voice, through our own lens. It feels like you can have a good evening, but we can also talk about all those issues that are important.
He said the Black Lives Matter movement has given “a real boost to [the arts community] to sort things out, but my fear is how long that momentum will last. The venues he’s approached for his productions “often want to book me into the ‘diverse slot’, and I’m saying we’re a UK theater company and I know there’s a huge audience because we’ve got it. proven every year. And it’s not just people of color, it’s everyone.
Kumar said he was still in shock about getting an OBE. “My mom didn’t hang up. When I left British Airways to devote myself to the arts, it was: “How dare you give up a good job? For many British South Asian families, this still is the case. Hopefully people like me who get awards, who get recognized, will change that. “