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 humans 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.”

 
 
 
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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. 

 
 
 

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."

 
 
 
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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 very 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 theatre 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 initiatives 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."

 
 
 
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LOUISA DAVIS

SENIOR PRODUCER - KING'S HEAD THEATRE

"'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."