Take Up Space Blog: August Events

Women of Colour Networking Event

On Thu 2 Aug we held a Women of Colour Networking Event with the aim of bringing together women of colour within the theatre industry. We provided a safe space where we could develop ways to create more opportunities for women of colour in the arts.

From the beginning of the workshop, it was evident that the women in the room were ready to make change; talking about their roles in the industry and how they would like to progress further. Everyone was asked to respond to the following questions on post-it notes, with the answers divided onto two walls.

a. Why you are proud of being a woman in the arts?
b. What would you like to change for women of colour in the arts?

Everyone then took part in a crisis exercise which is known as the ‘Four Roles of Social Activism’ and was devised by Bill Moyer in the 1960’s.  Our aim was to illustrate how individuals in their varied roles and personalities can make positive as well as negative contributions to the social activist movement. Using the stimulus of a hypothetical racial attack in London, we asked how each individual would respond and they moved to four corners of the room based on which role they felt they would take. We established that whether they were a ‘Helper’, a ‘Rebel’, an ‘Organiser’ or a ‘Reformer’, they are all activists in some way and it’s only in our collaboration that we will achieve real social change.

We mixed everybody up and got into groups with a balance of the four roles. We used the post-it responses from the start of the workshop to try and discover how each group would tackle some of the issues raised in order to implement change for future women of colour in the arts.

The rest of the workshop was focused around devising a plan to find a practical solution for the lack of diversity; taking into account the resources and time scale required.

Alysha engaged everyone in pitching their solutions to the rest of the room. We felt that the pitches were a way to allow participants to work together in an uncompetitive but successful way to begin to challenge the obstructions to the representation of women of colour in the arts. Some of the ideas that came out of these pitches included:

  • Top-Level diversity quotas
  • PoC-led theatre
  • Stronger networks for people of colour
  • More training programmes and mentorship for women of colour
  • Community education, upskilling and creating opportunities
  • Taking more risk on first-time PoC writers/creators
  • Engaging in effective outreach
  • Mixing trustees and having more of a transparency with selection processes
  • Capping the length of time for people in senior positions to allow more opportunity
  • Pledging for an increase in effective apprenticeships
  • Engaging in better marketing strategies

After discussing the challenges we face as women of colour in the arts, we wanted to finish the evening on a really positive note, so that everyone left feeling hopeful and empowered. Monica and Jasmyn took the opportunity to share some of the post-its that answered the question: ‘Why are you proud of being a woman of colour in the arts?’ Some of which included:

  • Having role models that share the same experiences
  • Sharing different perspectives
  • Supportive producers/directors in the industry
  • New voices and worlds
  • The solidarity that we give each other on social media – it’s a beautiful thing, we are supportive of each other
  • The richness of our stories
  • Having a community that gets and accepts me almost instantly

We moved to the Bar & Kitchen for drinks and further networking where we asked the participants to take a moment to reflect on their personal goal from the beginning: what did they want to gain from the workshop and did they feel they had achieved it?

We would like to thank everyone that came along to this event, it was a room full of incredible women and we hope that future collaborations will be made so that we can put some of those plans into practice.


August Script Club: Sweat by Lynn Nottage

Set almost entirely in a pub in Reading, Pennsylvania, Sweat by Lynn Nottage is the first US play we’ve had on our script club roster. The play is full of characters and ideas which gave us almost too much to talk about. We always start the sessions talking about how we felt and what was in our heads when we finished reading. The play sparked lots of excitement in the big ideas it discusses around labour, workers’ rights, racial tensions and generational difference to name just a few. Others really picked up on the details in Nottage’s writing, from the final stage direction to the references to the temperature which increases throughout the play.

Some iconic American plays, such as Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, were mentioned in the session because some people felt there was a similarity to Sweat; we acknowledged that these 20th century plays tend to focus on the family but Sweat manages to go even bigger. Setting it in the bar enabled us to see the wider community of the factory and it also gave us an insight into wider problems such as alcohol dependency and immigration. We were particularly taken by Oscar’s character whose presence and significance emerges for the audience in the same way that it does in the lives of the other characters.

We thought about how relationship-driven the play is and how exciting that would be onstage. It was mentioned that the novel-version of this story would direct your focus as a reader; it feels like one of the play’s strengths is how it oscillates between how you see the characters as a community and as individuals. The dynamic between Tracey and Cynthia seems to be at the centre of the drama and we discussed how Nottage gives them such clear drives and motivations for the way they behave towards one another. Although the room seemed to empathise most strongly with Cynthia, some of the group pointed out her naivety and wondered whether she was fighting a losing battle.

We thought a little about how the play might be staged and had a look at photos from previous productions. We wondered how you might show time ripping through the play as Nottage describes when the play moves between 2000 and 2008. As a group, we were split about how much of the national and local politics that are described at the top of each scene would be necessary to also show the audience. Some people felt that this was mostly for the company performing the show to know and there might be ways to make small references such as having the TV on in the back of the bar. Others felt that the audience needed to experience all these references to get the richest experience of the play. Some suggestions for how to do this include projecting on a screen or using the TV in the bar in the scene changes. Another suggestion was having an LED strip as used in stock exchanges with the news running along it.

We really struggled to fit everything discussed into one blog post this month! But we thought it might be helpful to repeat what we did last month and end with a list of the plays and other shows mentioned in the session:

The Effect by Lucy Prebble
Frozen by Bryony Lavery
Roman Tragedies dir. by Ivo Van Hove
Big Little Lies (HBO TV series)
Productions of View from the Bridge and Fun Home , Young Vic