COMMON: COMMENTS

When joining COMMON's family as a Patron, we ask these established, working-class artists to write a short comment about our work and what drives them to support COMMON as an organisation. These COMMON: COMMENTS from our Patrons can be read below.

 

 
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JAMES GRAHAM

OLIVIER AWARD-WINNING PLAYWRIGHT

"Socio-economic diversity in the arts is a tough fight to fight. It has and continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing theatre in the UK, and our industry is all the poorer for its lack of accessibility and inclusivity of working-class artists. 

There were problems, challenges, and impossible hurdles when I was starting out from this kind of background, from a deprived community, but it's only getting harder for the next generation of ferociously talented artists. 

I have been so impressed and inspired by the work of David Loumgair and of COMMON, and wish an organisation like this had existed when I was in my early career.

I admire its mission, its punchiness and its ideas. I admire its desire to work with existing companies and venues in fuelling this conversation, and collaborating with them to come up with solutions. I admire its national focus and its commitment to regions outside the capital, working with communities across the UK who have limited access to the arts. 

As an artist from a working-class background, I am thrilled to join COMMON as a Patron to support this cause, and can't wait to see what ideas are generated and the progress we can all make together."

 

 
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Stef o’driscoll

THEATRE DIRECTOR & ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF NABOKOV

“I believe that theatre needs urgent change to remain relevant and popular, and for that reason I’m a huge champion of forms like gig theatre, which creates an alternative experience for people who don’t think theatre is for them, and combats the elitism that still exists within the theatre industry.

I am proud to be a patron of COMMON, just as much as i am proud of my working class values and status, and that is EXTREMELY proud.

It is vital that organisations like COMMON are addressing the barriers that working-class people face when accessing the arts, and that they are actively working with theatres to ensure that working-class artists have equal ability to gain opportunities needed to build a sustainable career in theatre.

We have a lot of work to do, from grass-roots up and from the top-down, but with organisations like COMMON we hope theatre buildings and companies in the UK will be equipped with the knowledge to make long-lasting, genuine change - starting now.”

 

 

TAIO LAWSON

THEATRE DIRECTOR

“I grew up in South London, raised by a strong, single mother, equally strong ‘aunties’ (friends of my mum who gathered around her to support her) and an older brother who, with my mum and aunts, sacrificed and persevered for his two younger ‘aspirational’ brothers.

My struggles now are different because of their struggles, graft and values, which can only be described as ‘working-class’. There was never much talk of art or theatre, or talk of career in general, until one day I was sitting in the back of the car and said I wanted to be an actor, to which I got “It’s hard work. There isn’t much work in that. Not much money.”

A few years later I took their advice and became a director instead… they didn’t say that the exact same applies.

Where I am today has taken 10 years of knocking on doors, of saying yes to things and thinking about it later, of working through the nights to get an essay in to not be thrown off the degree and be back in a rehearsal the next morning, of pure luck, of several flukes, and of trying to stay humble (I struggle with that last one). But, where I am today is referred to as still 'emerging'.

I find it difficult to describe my work. A lot of what I have done has come out of a need to work, and so the ability to describe things in a nutshell is rather difficult, as they haven’t necessarily been displays of my perspective or taste. This isn’t an uncommon thing amongst ‘emerging’ artists, but prevalent amongst working-class ones whose economic disposition is more precarious. 

When I have felt that I am in control of what I’m doing, or been a respected collaborator, and not being driven solely by necessity, the work has often been political and about finding a clear way to comment on the world with as much of a tongue-in-cheek as possible.

I'm interested in making events. I want to contribute to the art form in a way that pushes it forward, as opposed to celebrating what it is or has been. Mainly because what it is or has been hasn't been mindful of people like me.

I want to make work that is mindful of my niece and nephew - two working-class, young, people of colour who are bright, brilliant and creative, yet do not feel welcome in the spaces I work in. I don’t want to forget the white middle-classes who spend their extra dollar on a ticket, but I believe that when theatre is pushed forward it is diverse, it is inclusive, it is always questioning and always provocative.

I don’t believe that theatre changes the world or lives. I think people do that themselves. I do however believe in the power of art to be a launch pad for people to do so. I want theatre to be a launchpad for my niece and nephew, their peers, and people who come from a similar background to me, as well as the current theatre audience. 

That is why I have become a Patron of COMMON. because COMMON is trying to make theatre more diverse and more inclusive by questioning the lack of both these things in the community of theatre makers. COMMON understands that it is not the only way to change the elitist nature of theatre in general, but it is a key cog in the big machine of change.

COMMON understands that off-stage creatives need support too, and so far I have struggled in my career to find an organisation that is doing this with such clarity. COMMON also realises that unless theatre changes, unless it opens its doors to wider demographic of people, unless artists from a wider scope of lived experiences and economic backgrounds are supported and given opportunities to add to the art form, the art in its current structure will die.

COMMON, like me, wants to enrich and help evolve theatre, not oversee its demise.”

 

 

MATTHEW DUNSTER

OLIVIER AWARD-NOMINATED THEATRE DIRECTOR

"I was born and raised in Oldham.  My Dad worked as a draftsman at a small local truck firm, and my Mum worked as a clerk for various catalogue and wholesale grocery companies. I went to a large comprehensive school in Oldham and left at 18 having skilfully flunked my A levels.

After three years working in debt recovery for North West Water, I managed, through persistence and lucky timing, to get a place at Bretton Hall College, Leeds University. In 1995, a year after graduating, I moved to London.  Because I’d experienced the hell of North West Water, I decided to take a risk and never accept any job that wasn’t either acting, writing, directing or teaching drama. It meant all my energy went in the right direction. I could only do that because from '91 to '94 my fees were paid by the (Tory?!) government, and I received a maintenance grant. Also, once in London, I could ‘sign on’ and get Housing Benefit. A different world.

Anyway - I’ve been working in some theatre somewhere pretty much continually ever since. But when you’re perceived as having done ‘OK’, it can seem distasteful to talk about the difficulties you've faced along the way.

The thing that I’ve been saying for years, and that I know is one of the things COMMON is also rooted in, is that 'class' is invisible. This is one of the reasons class is so seldom talked about, as something that can either ease your path through this industry, or provide extra obstacles and challenges.

I’m from a working-class background. I was the first person, not just in my family but in my extended family, to study for a degree. I moved to London. I’m now a (middle class?) Londoner, and it is from the perspective of a theatre practitioner living in London that I have viewed how much more difficult it is for certain people, from certain backgrounds, to get a foothold both in the industry and in the capital city.

COMMON wants to create and lead conversations in that area. I want to be a part of the conversation.

One issue with the concept of ‘identity politics’ is that it might mean we stop talking about ‘politics’. But, identity politics burst out from a feeling of unfairness, and if, as COMMON are, we look at the challenges that exist for people who identify as working-class, then surely fairness - leading to equal opportunity, leading to equal representation and a sustainable living - is the best kind of politics. Socialism!

I’m in."

 

 

NESSAH MUTHY

MULTI AWARD-WINNING WRITER

“I am a working-class, mixed-race mother of two and I’m absolutely thrilled to become a Patron of COMMON.

I whole-heartedly believe that what David Loumgair and COMMON have achieved during the organisation's relatively short existence is nothing less than groundbreaking.

As a working-class artist, I have never felt such a renewed sense of hope for all working and benefit-class creatives across the UK theatre industry.

Things FINALLY feel like they are changing, for the good. Working-class and benefit-class artists are reaching out to one another and banding together to ensure substantial and sustainable change in the arts, not just in the present, but for future generations.

That’s not to say there isn’t still a long way to go. However, David and COMMON feel like leaders of this charge. Their work is multi-faceted, forensically thorough and, crucially, intrinsically, understands what it means to be working-class in our modern society.

I will always feel that more is needed to level the playing field for my fellow, working and benefit-class comrades. It’s no secret that it is systemic change which is required in the sector, but, if any organisation is capable of coming close to achieving that, it’s COMMON.”

 

 
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STEVEN KAVUMA

THEATRE DIRECTOR & FOUNDER OF THE DIVERSITY SCHOOL INITIATIVE

Regardless of how I perform identity, my body is marked with signs that signify identities that exist outside of my desires. - Jennifer Esposito

“I am black. I am working-class. This industry is yet to cater for me, and for people who look like me, or who come from where I come from.

Class is both invisible and visible. I have been in spaces where people think I am middle-class; because the idea of ‘performing’ middle-class was a safer option and much like a survival kit for me. Then I asked myself, why should I be the one to change? Surely, it should be about them changing their own mindsets, and allowing for several, diverse voices to be in the room…?

This is about us having a seat at the table, and being a diner. It is about us being a part of the bigger conversation – so that when we speak, someone does not regard our thoughts as stupid, based purely on our accents or our speech pattern. It is about us not being seen as the ‘rough diamond.’

COMMON are engaging with our one of our country’s most difficult topics, and I am proud to be a Patron for them and continue the work of diversifying theatres and drama schools. I am excited to unpick those micro-aggressions, and set a way of working that is both safe and open for everyone.”

 

 
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DAVID ELDRIDGE

PLAYWRIGHT

“I was born and grew up in Romford, in the seventies and eighties. My dad was a factory floor shoemaker and sometime market trader and my mum had given up work to look after me, my brother and my sister. We had very little, and I remember very little of my dad when I was young, as he was always at work. I remember we sometimes had friends to play with, but we always liked to go to other kids houses and play with different toys. Even as a young child I could see, apart from one kid who lived in a block of flats, all the other kids had nicer houses, nicer gardens, cars that didn’t break down, they ate nicer food, their parents didn’t seem so stressed and fractious, they had pocket money. Other kids dreamed big dreams of all the things they could do when they were bigger. I never did. After all, why dream about a foreign holiday when you’re never going to go on one?

When I was 11 an assertive teacher and an uncle beginning to prosper in Thatcher’s Britain suggested I was too bright to attend a local comprehensive. More in forlorn hope rather than remote expectation, I was put forward to sit entrance exams for grammar and private schools in Essex. To everyone’s surprise I was offered places at all the schools bar one where my all fees would be paid by the local education authority, or by scholarship, or a mixture of the two. I even got my uniform for free. So, in September 1985 I became a public-school boy.

We never had much, but until I was eleven and went to the posh school, I never felt any shame about my home life, but overnight I felt immense shame and fear. Fear that I would be expelled for some reason. Constant fear and shame. That I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t deserve my place at the school, that I didn’t know which cutlery to use, that any of my school friends would ever see my house. With its cracked crazy paving sprouting weeds and the tatty wallpaper torn after my mum and dad had a row because my dad hadn’t finished the decorating. In seven years at senior school I never once had a friend home to my house. I was so scared of being found out as ‘common’ and people laughing at me and us. Over time, as boy became teenager became young man, that fear and shame pickled into anger. Why did all these kids and their parents have so many things and opportunities that we never had nor would we ever have? No doubt some mum’s and dad’s worked very hard. But mostly the fact we had so little and they had so much seemed to be an accident of birth and circumstance.

I came to see just how lucky I’d been to get the academic education I did – simply because it was my teacher’s idea and my uncle fancied himself as upwardly mobile. And I had a mum and dad willing to take a chance and scrimp pennies and pounds for a maths tutor. I don’t resent my education, I can’t, because the opportunity and privilege has made me a writer. Most writers are outsiders of one sort or another. But all these years later I’m still angry. I went to university and just as at school nearly everyone there was middle and upper class, wealthy and privileged. Then I went to work in the theatre and, just as at school and university, nearly everyone there was middle and upper-class, wealthy and privileged. And all the important people seemed to have attended one of two universities. Boy it made me angry. Again and again in my life I feel like I’ve been one of one or two, or if I’m lucky three or four, allowed in. Ladders are ‘extended down’ and quickly pulled up again. And the rest that would like just as much, or don’t even know yet they would like, the opportunity to thrive academically at school, or find their voice at university and begin to make that voice heard in the theatre never, ever get those chances.

This is wrong and therefore of course I support COMMON and their mission to support the career development of working and under-class artists, alongside those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These artists need help to overcome the structural, socio-economic inequalities which plague the UK creative industries, and assistance to build sustainable careers – just as I did. I am proud to offer COMMON my solidarity and support.”

 

 
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LOUISA DAVIS

THEATRE PRODUCER

"'Diversity' is a term which is regularly used in the theatre industry, and across the country people are working hard to create, produce and support theatre which is more reflective of our society as a whole. However, class as an area of diversity has been historically ignored in this national conversation, and by doing so we miss out on collaborating with some incredible artists, learning of deeply inspirational and under-represented experiences, and seeing some truly powerful work on our stages.

If we want the theatre industry to be truly reflective of our society, inclusive of all the communities and classes which live within it, then we must recognise the importance of including socio-economic diversity in this national debate. It is perhaps often overlooked, due to not being a 'visible' area of diversity, however I would argue that it is the area which has the most complicated impact on artist's attempts to build careers in the UK theatre industry.

I come from a working-class background, and was never in as comfortable a position as others around me. Compared to others, it felt like I had to work much harder, or go the long-way round, to be able to do what I was truly passionate about. The barriers never seemed to let up, it was a struggle to get to a point where I knew I could be successful and sustainable. I was fortunate to have access to some generous opportunities during my early career, which helped me reach the position I am in today, but without these I don't think I would be.

Sadly, those opportunities which helped me forge a career in theatre are becoming less and less frequent, and this is precisely why I am proud to be supporting COMMON and the urgent work they are undertaking."

 

 
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REECE MCMAHON

ARTS PRODUCER & ASSISTANT PRODUCER AT THE PLACE

“I grew up in York, on a council-estate, with my Mum, two sisters and Nana. My journey in the arts started when I attended a Ballroom and Latin dance class aged 7, which has since led me to producing, with so much in-between!

My incredibly supportive family and their countless sacrifices allowed me to pursue a career that I never thought attainable. I often wonder whether I’ll ever be able to pay my mum back fully for all those pennies she put into that young lad who had a big aspiration.

Every young person, regardless of their socio-economic background, with the drive to make it in the creative industries should be given the assistance, the support and the tools they need to build a sustainable career in the arts.

Being working-class is not something to be embarrassed about or trivialised (I can’t count the number of times I’ve been referred to as Billy Elliot or a ‘diamond in the rough’). My upbringing now hugely informs my approach to the arts - it’s time to make it easier for others to share their under-represented experiences, in an inclusive industry which is reflective of all aspects of society.

As an artist who is still early on in plotting their creative journey, I feel incredibly humbled and empowered to join COMMON as a Patron. Class has historically not been recognised as an important part of the diversity debate because it is invisible, and therefore easy to ignore. I believe class, and the way it intersects with other identify factors, is one of the most complex and under-addressed barriers that we as an industry have yet to crack.

COMMON are unashamedly loud and proud about their desire to be a sector changer, and I’m even prouder to be a part of galvanising others to join in. I’ve been lucky enough to receive some golden opportunities to kickstart my career, and I now want to make sure that the door doesn’t close behind me.

COMMON’s existence is just the start - this is not about us fitting in, it is about the industry itself changing, so that working-class artists, audiences and communities can be proud of a sector which embraces and encourages them to thrive.”

 

 
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RYAN MCBRYDE

CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT MERCURY THEATRE (COLCHESTER)

“I’m a proud, working-class lad from Leeds, from a single parent family. I didn’t go to Cambridge or Oxford, and I have no theatrical ancestry. So, breaking into the theatre world wasn't easy. I remember my careers advisor at school asking if I was joking when I said I wanted to be a theatre director. Kids like me didn't do theatre. It was as simple as that.

This is why COMMON is so important.

To give people from working and under-class backgrounds support and, most importantly, a platform to have their voices heard.”

 

 
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SEAN LINNEN

THEATRE DIRECTOR

"I whole-heartedly believe that theatre should be open to everyone regardless of their postcode, upbringing or household income. A lack of resources, connections or opportunities shouldn’t disqualify anyone from working in the arts.

For theatre to remain vital and exciting we need to widen the talent pool, not just of people who end up working in theatre, but crucially, widen the talent pool of people who think a career in theatre could be for them. 

It's often dispiriting to walk into a theatre or arts organisation but not to see the town or city it serves being reflected back in its work or its workforce. So the work COMMON and David Loumgair are doing to remove the barriers faced by artists from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds is not just important, but absolutely fundamental to the future of British theatre.

COMMON want to celebrate working-class artists and working-class stories on our stages. They want to crack open the industry to make careers in theatre more attainable and sustainable for everyone. They want to make our theatres more accessible to working-class audiences and local communities. Ultimately, they want to pass the mic to people who’ve not been heard yet. And, for me, nothing is more exciting or vital than that. 

I’m properly proud of my working-class roots. And I’m properly proud to be a Patron of COMMON and their continuing fight for socio-economic diversity in theatre.”

 

 

AHMET AHMET

OUTREACH DIRECTOR - GET INTO THEATRE (THE STAGE)

“As a son of two Turkish immigrant parents and now working in the theatre sector, my background has both shaped my position within the industry and continues to inform my work. As a second generation, working-class Turk, theatre was not only unaccessible, it wasn’t even on my family’s radar. However after ‘accidentally' getting into theatre, whether as a creative or a theatre educationalist, it’s my parents typical immigration drive for growth and self betterment that has enabled me to firstly lead change in diversifying theatre and survive in what can be a tricky industry to fit into for someone like me. In 1998 when I trained at drama school, theatre didn’t have many Ahmet’s. It was wanting to change that which fuelled my journey to my current role as Outreach Director for Get Into Theatre. 

In order to lead change you have to start a conversation. It was COMMON’s incredible stance on leading change for theatre artists, organisations and audiences that gave me the honour of being a Patron. Sharing values on equality and inclusion for working-class people, I am proud to be a patron for this fantastic organisation that works with individual creatives as well as producing theatres, to ensure we start to see people in our theatres who we're currently not seeing a lot of. As a Patron I join COMMON on their mission for action to open up theatre to everyone and challenge the current socio-economic inequality within our industry. As Patron I bring the story of my past and my present experience to support COMMON's inclusive future vision for the theatre sector. 

 

 
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JIMMY FAIRHURST

ACTOR, THEATRE DIRECTOR & ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF ‘NOT TOO TAME’

"I believe that COMMON have a vital role to play in challenging the status quo of the UK theatre industry; implementing positive and practical changes which are urgently needed to create greater access and opportunity for artists who identify as working-class.

COMMON have an acute awareness that the playing field is currently unbalanced. I have already seen the positive changes COMMON have made to the sector, and I am deeply inspired by their actions and determination to change things for the better.

I believe that we need to make a significant commitment to adding genuine working-class voices, in all their diversity, to the cultural palette from which we paint our nation’s stories. Where are the next Jim Cartwright’s, Willy Russell’s, Lemn Sissay’s and Andrea Dunbar’s? The next Christopher Ecclestone’s and Julie Walters’?  This is an exciting time to uncover the new working-class voices in the arts, but for this to happen, we need love, we need support and we need determined action. 

I am proud to join the list of artists who support COMMON as a Patron, and I am ready to galvanise others to commit to delivering positive change for working-class artists; creating more accessible routes into working in the arts for those from working-class backgrounds."

 

 
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CHRIS SONNEX

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR - THE BUNKER THEATRE

“A young, working-class man I had the pleasure of creating art with, whilst filling out yet another tedious form, got to the question ‘What social / economic class do you identify as?’ He answered ‘FIRST CLASS’. I agree. He was. So too are many working-class artists in this industry, and so too are ones that aren't even in the industry. Some are mediocre, of course, or worse.

I'm not here to fetishise the working-classes like we are all Eliza Doolittles waiting for our immense talent to be discovered by two rich white dudes. Because that’s not how it happens; whether we have immense talent or mediocrity, the truth is we rarely ever get seen at all.

While mediocrity does of course get its day in the theatrical sunshine, it is very, very rarely from an under-represented demographic. It’s not just about picking out ‘the jewels in the dirt’, it’s about not having barriers to art. These barriers are something that I strive to bring down; to open the doors and try and highlight the road to the door in the first place. Those barriers are not just for the working-classes of course, so many demographics have struggles too. We should be striving together for representation, equality and fairness for all.

This is why organisations like COMMON are so important. Fighting the fight that some can’t do; breaking walls down that some don't even know are there; opening conversations on behalf of people who feel like they don't have voices. It's why I'm very proud to be a Patron of COMMON. 

As an artist that has been very lucky in my career, with wonderful mentors. As a person that wants to see my world represented. As a working-class man that still thinks someone will rumble him at any given point, and will be told to go wash the windows. As someone that gets told by people, constantly, that my job and education means that "You’re not working-class anymore" (F*%K OFF); and as a human being. 

I believe that COMMON is fighting a fight that is incredibly important for the theatre industry. I believe that COMMON are truly ‘Working-Class Heroes.’"