Diversity School redacted report 2021

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Diversity School Report 2021 Written and conducted by Jami Rogers


Diversity School Report 2021 Written and conducted by Jami Rogers

I. Introduction The Diversity School Initiative was set up in 2016 by Maame Atuah, Mumba Dodwell and Steven Kavuma. The Intiative’s aim was to address under-representation, access and diversity in UK drama schools. Over 5 years, the Initiative partnered with the leading drama schools in the UK: Arts Educational Schools, Bristol Old Vic, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, LAMDA and Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. The main purpose of this collaborative partnership was for the drama schools to commit to improving the diversity of all kinds (including, but not limited to, race, gender, social class/socio-economic status, disability) in their institutions. ​ Within the partnership with drama schools, the Initiative facilitated workshops and events both for staff and students which ran as part of an ‘In-Reach’ Programme. These workshops included looking at issues surrounding race, gender, sexual harassment and social-class, working with organisations such as Royal Court Theatre, Kiln Theatre, Liverpool Everyman Playhouse, Papergang Theatre and Young Vic Taking Part. This concluded in a manifesto of change that provided drama schools with clear and practical solutions surrounding the issues explored in these workshops. In 2020, the Initiative was led by Leanne Henlon, Sam Brewer and Sara Malik who supported student-led discussions in summer 2020 surrounding the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. They also managed our online Outreach programme funded by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation to roll out three workshops in Birmingham, Leicester and Sheffield across two years. In September 2021 company Directors Maame Atuah and Steven Kavuma decided to end the Diversity School Initiative. They created a final programme of events to further integrate the role drama school training has to play in the industry and to offer drama schools clear and practical solutions. The program included two online spaces for students to vocalise their experiences about their training; one for graduates and one for current students at our partner drama schools. Along this they produced an online anonymous reporting form for students to come forward to report incidents and microaggressions that have taken place within drama schools. This concluded with a live event that took place at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in December 2021. We have decided to redact some of the statements to protect the identities of those who have shared their experiences with us. We ask that if you are familiar with some incidents to refrain from disclosing them to any third parties. Please note this report contains language that may be triggering for some. There are mentions of sexual abuse, sexual assult, racism, homophobia and explict language.


Diversity School Report 2021 Written and conducted by Jami Rogers

II. Anonymous reporting form 1 One of the Diversity School’s final initiatives was the implementation of an anonymous reporting form in November and December 2021. Students and recent graduates of drama schools shared their experiences. Collectively, these experiences show the continuing need to address casting bias, bullying, prejudice and sexual harassment in Britain’s major performing arts training organizations. Respondents’ comments illustrates the casting bias that is also pervasive in the industry: I wanted to play a character in a specific way but was told it would be in my best interests to portray her asREDECTED REDACTED REDACTED. On a separate occasion I was cast as REDECTED REDACTED.forced to act – and be treated like a slave – with no follow up or even a debrief to check if I was okay with this before hand. After performing REDACTED REDACTED. for the agents showcase, I was told I shouldn’t do it because it was written for white people. REDACTED REDACTED REDACT. REDACTED REDACTED REDACT. REDACTED REDACTREDECTED REDACTED REDACT. REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED

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Choosing material for the white majority that was created for ethnic minorities to perform and ignoring the discomfort that caused to ethnic minority students.

Similarly, there were clear indications of students encountering overt racism during their studies: Racists comments, micro aggression from peers, singled out by teachers, being called a monkey, being pick[ed] [on] REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTEDbeing singled out when there were any people of colour in their presentation, to name a few incidents. Being the victim of other students being asked to shout racist slurs at me for the purpose of acting through song, after I’d said I wouldn’t want that. Acting Tutor said the N word with a hard R in an academic setting and REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED I was too scared to tell faculty because they were renowned for doing nothing and he got off with a warning REDACTED REDACTED 1

Some comments have been edited for length, grammar and clarity. Identifying characteristics of staff members and students have also been redacted where necessary, to maintain confidentiality and data protection.


Diversity School Report 2021 Written and conducted by Jami Rogers

REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTEDvoice lesson and learn some sort of general American accent, at the end of the class the teachers turned to the black students and said, “Yeah we can’t teach you the Black version but if you Google it you can find it that way.” REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED

Students from other backgrounds are also subjected to prejudice in drama schools: REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED presume REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED

By far the largest number of experiences shared by students were about sexual harassment. The volume of these similar complaints speaks to a culture that uses students for gratification and places them in threatening situations, in which they are powerless because of the power dynamics in a student-tutor and/or drama school employee relationship: Groomed throughREDACTED and then used for sex [by a tutor]. Rehiring of an external director after a whole year group made complaints of sexually in appropriate behaviour from him. Each student in the year had individual incidents that occurred. All in writing. From him kissing girls in front of the whole class. Him making inappropriate comments about REDACTED students. All this was brought to the school. Lessons with him ended. Then [a senior staff member] tried on multiple occasions to bring him back. Under the disclaimer that he wasn’t allowed alone with the students. He was then sacked again after further complaints of misconduct. When I attended the school, several girls including myself reported [a member of the support staff] at the time for sexual harassment and sexual comments towards us….I was left alone with him after he’d been told I reported him. He was like: ‘It was just a joke’. He cornered me in a room, asking me about it. REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED I worked REDACTED REDACTED and REDACTED REDACTED There was aREDACTED who worked there. He was NOTORIOUS for being weird with the girls and saying sex jokes and trying to tickle them etc. It was weird. He would alwaysREDACTED REDACTED and try to touch me. Everyone saw it. I stayed away from him. While I worked there REDACTED REDACTED REDACTEDREDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED he came in to make tea. We were there alone. He came up behind me and smelled REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED I jumped and was scared REDACTED REDACTED He then made a joke and left. I went immediately to [a staff member] and made a complaint to him, said everything and that I was frightened. He said he would sort it out. Later that day I was by myself in the staff room and [the harasser] came in and said, ‘Listen I’m sorry alright it was a joke, don’t get mad over it, it was a joke’. I was scared and said, REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED I went home and cried for hours. REDACTED REDACTED REDACTEDREDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTEDREDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTEDREDACTED REDACTED REDACTED


Diversity School Report 2021 Written and conducted by Jami Rogers

REDACTED The complaints kept coming over the sexual behaviour of the [harasser] towards the girls. It disgusted me. I’ll never forgive them. The [harasser] left 6 months after that. They made us all sign a card for him. [Redacted] asking for nude pictures of students through messenger. After refusal, continuing to share other private pictures of men to entice sharing. Reporting this so others are aware of the predator [redacted]. He worked at the school whilst I was in attendance and was overall creepy. He used to invite me to his house when having drinks in the pub across the road from the school with friends. As the pandemic started he even asked me to live with him so we could both be lonely together. He would always be in there whenever myself and friends were in the venue drinking, and was known amongst students to have a drinking problem. I know I’m one of the lucky ones who never suffered abuse by this man further than that, but allegations were raised anonymously though course leaders about him sending other students inappropriate texts with sexual content. The students this happened to wish to remain anonymous hence my lack of description. They fear not being able to work in the industry as he has a lot of powerful friends (or so he told us). After this was raised with other staff at [redacted], [redacted] was let go and nothing was said online or in other classes to warn students who follow him on social media as he has a LARGE following that would always seemingly preach things that students wanted to hear. Him being let go was handled quietly and swiftly. I just want this man to be unable to work in other schools after the harm he caused MANY students at [redacted] both current and graduates. I am praying that I’m not the only one to write something about this person. He took a break on social media after he was let go and has recently returned and is preaching about “being someone who makes mistakes and everyone has to learn etc” it’s ridiculous. Thank you for creating this form for these vile people to be outed and to make drama school training safe. A boy in my class used to grab my bum during lessons. Teachers saw and did nothing, despite me wincing. It really impacted my learning and I always felt on edge. I kept telling him to stop but he did this daily REDACTED REDACTED . He only stopped because I burst into tears in a rehearsal room. In my REDACTED show, my character was raped on stage. When choreographing the scene, I was laying on my back on the floor with my legs open, and my scene partner was nearby. The director said: ‘Can I have a go’ and before I could move he was on top of me. I was so uncomfortable.

While experiences with racial bias in casting, overt racism and sexual harassment dominated the respondents’ comments, there were also other problems students encountered in the classroom. One of the other areas of concern was student mental health: There was a clear lack of care for the students. Students would quite often be mocked and belittled publicly by the staff. I’m not talking about “constructive criticism” which may have helped them as performers and people but downright nasty comments. You’d feel awful witnessing it happening, but no-one wanted to speak up in case it was directed towards them. There was no real support structure at the school. The port of call for help was supposed to be [one of the senior members of staff], but [they were] no help at all. I’m pretty sure [they] had zero training in therapy/mental health support. I remember [they] host[ed] whole school meetings where [they] would advise us to snap elastic bands on our wrists if we were feeling stressed, as well as advising us on things we could do instead of eating (since you don’t want


Diversity School Report 2021 Written and conducted by Jami Rogers

to be fat in this industry). The school also didn’t feel safe. If teachers tried to raise concerns, they wouldn’t be invited back to work again. Multiple teachers have said that they didn’t have to provide the school with DBS checks in order to begin work. Although the school now states on its website that students must be 18+ to be on one of the courses, there were students during the time that I studied who were 16/17 years old at the start of their courses. The head of this school continued to gaslight and emotionally abuse me from the moment that I said (honestly) that I would leave after one year because fees were too expensive. I was cornered physically told that I was ‘not strong enough’, and was denied entry to the school unless I would take anti-depressants because my having a panic attack and a bout of poor mental health was ‘burdening’ and ‘affecting’ other students and ‘ruining’ the business. The story goes on and on,REDACTED REDACTED This has led me to years of counselling, and years of unwinding negative thought processes due to events that happened behind closed doors. I actually have no memory of quite some time at this school due to trauma. It needs to stop. When I was really struggling with my mental health I talked to [a senior staff member] because there wasn't a counsellor available at the school and [they] offered to have a chat. I trusted [them] and opened up and then [they] used it against me, implying that I couldn't be trusted with bigger roles because [they] didn't know if I was stable enough to be able to do my job. It didn't help that most teachers were really unprofessional and had clear favourites. Some teachers truly made some students feel like they weren’t worth spending their time and knowledge on. Instead of helping everybody in the same way they would really help some students and almost give up on others. It created an environment of competitiveness instead of a healthy environment in which the students could feel safe enough to really learn. One of the male teachers was flirtatious to the point where it was uncomfortable to watch and he always favoured students that he found attractive. A lot of teachers used the “I’m treating you as a professional” and the “this is how it is in the real world” to talk down to students instead of helping them. A school is not the real world, I am paying to learn, practice and be helped, not to be judged and bullied.

The experiences of international students, whose fees are often treble those of Home students, are frequently overlooked in critiques of drama school training. They used the Diversity School’s anonymous reporting form to lay out the challenges they have also encountered while training: I am an international student. Mine and my fellow were international students felt completely disregarded our whole time at drama school. I was told my voice was “incorrect” for Shakespeare. When I and one other international student were the only people to not get cast in major roles inREDACTED REDACTED , we asked if we could receive feedback from our auditions so we could use this experience to grow. We were then told by the [senior member of staff] that in the real world you won’t get feedback, so I shouldn’t expect any now. He then went on to say that he sees me only working ever in comedy so I should be grateful to be in the chorus of a comedy musical. I know these are nowhere near the level of some abuse others have faced, but after three years of constantly hearing that there was just something wrong with my voice, and being one of the few people who did not speak with an English accent, it started to feel like a deliberate pattern. There was no support provided to us after graduation as there was for the UK students, and despite many of us performing at some of the biggest theatres in the US, the school does not recognize our post graduation successes as they do our UK counterparts. I would not change my college experience, it made me who I am today, but I also have not been able to recommend the school in good conscious to any other American.


Diversity School Report 2021 Written and conducted by Jami Rogers

As a student from REDACTED , I've been told ever since the first day of my training on the REDACTED course in REDACTED that I would never be an actress because I have an accent (when speaking English). In the past three years many comments such as "We don't want to work with foreigners because they all stink" have been made and lots of xenophobic treatment both by students and certain staff. We never got any extra support when doing accent work, but were marked on it the same way as native English speakers. In myREDACTED year I was approached by native English-speaking students who told me if I could please speak up because they didn't think marking/casting has ever happened in a fair way for non- native English speakers. On other occasions I've been told I am disabled (because of a hip injury), even though I told them clearly I don't identify myself as disabled, and also because of this "how will you make a career with these hips and your age". On another occasion I was obliged to publicly perform in a cabaret song that included anti-semitic comments and making a mockery out of sexual abuse. This was written by REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED and when I approached the lecturer telling them I don't feel comfortable performing the song, I got told I had to perform it or they couldn't mark me and that if it was a job I wouldn't go complaining to the director. I was told to just "ignore" the lyrics of the song.

These comments all collectively illustrate the damaging behaviours of staff and, in many cases, fellow students that need to be eradicated. Prejudice of all kinds and sexual harassment have no place in drama schools in the twenty-first century. They should be leading the way for the industry, not replicating the abuse that still permeates in some aspects of our industry. III. Diversity School 2021: Our Last Event The Diversity School held its final event on 13 December 2021 at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. It was chaired by Steven Kavuma and Maame Atuah. Attendees included students and drama school staff members, both in the concert hall venue and via a live stream. Maame Atuah summed up Diversity School’s work in her opening remarks: Diversity School Initiative was founded in 2016. So our main aim was to amplify the student voice, we did this whilst we were training. Over the years we’ve met some challenging people and have had lots of really difficult conversations, all about trying to convince people, trying to talk to people about why diversity and inclusion mattered. We didn’t think we needed to do much convincing, but there we were. Diversity School was the first of its kind. We met with staff and students. We held workshops and safe spaces for marginalised groups and were constantly challenging the status quo.

Steven Kavuma continued: We were never set up as an organisation that wanted to run for twenty, thirty years. The aim for us was always to end Diversity School. The need for Diversity School was to no longer be a thing, it was to be handed over to the drama schools and say, ‘Here you are. We’ve done the blueprint for you and now it’s time to follow that through.’ And the aim was to make an initiative that would eventually end and, as Maame was saying, our primary aim was to amplify the student voice. That was always our primary goal. The students were at the heart of everything we were doing. But over the five years, we have not only done this, but have


Diversity School Report 2021 Written and conducted by Jami Rogers

laid the foundations for inclusive practice in drama schools, making students and staff more safe and keeping people accountable.

The purpose of the event was to share and learn best practice and leave with practical outcomes. The format was a collaborative discussion, built around particular themes that the Diversity School has developed in its work since 2016. Two of the key subjects of conversation were how to make sustainable change and the importance of safe spaces including support for students. 1. Sustainable change: One major question posed was about sustainable change and why sustainable change is important. How can drama schools continue to make sustainable change? Kavuma stressed its importance, saying: We’ve also got to make change that is not only there for a moment, but can be around for decades and decades. And it’s not about one particular person or one particular initiative, but it is embedded in the way we learn and the way we teach and in the eco-system of drama schools and drama school practice.

One response to the provocation was a recognition that sustainable change is possible “when it comes from every corner of the institution, so from the top down: boards, stakeholders, principals, executive team. There’s something about root and branch belief and application. The institution has to support the will to make sustainable change.” Sustainable change is not the job of one person, but the whole organisation. Another respondent added that “There is a temptation to see change as something extra, whereas actually I think it’s about making space in every academic year. Making space, maybe it’s in the curriculum, or maybe making space in the timetable.” A lack of time to discuss these changes with students and colleagues was also felt to inhibit sustainable change. Discussions about this topic repeatedly returned to the combined issues of tradition, culture and history, which need to be addressed if sustainable change is to happen. Particularly the ideas of the tradition of drama school training, which Kavuma summed up: The tradition of how it has always been taught, and how it ‘should’ be taught, therefore doesn’t make contemporary training accessible and doesn’t refresh it. And there’s that culture as well that goes, ‘Well, that’s how we do it. That’s the drama school way.’ And it’s that history of how it has always been done that we can’t shake or move for some sort of reason.

Curriculum choices were discussed as one key method by which change could be sustainable. Adapting the curriculum to be more inclusive while still passing on the skills teachers instil in their students through practice are retained. However, with drama school timetables packed already, the pressures of finding the space and the time in order to implement change in its various forms were discussed as barriers to making that change sustainable. One participant described these issues with this observation:


Diversity School Report 2021 Written and conducted by Jami Rogers

There’s a massive responsibility on those of us that have the opportunity to write curriculum. I think the struggle you’re talking about comes because there’s this traditional way of training actors that is tried and tested and leads to certain skills being realised. But those methods are based around a curriculum that is not inclusive and it excludes people, but I think it’s important that there’s a dialogue between those two things because I think people are resistant because they go, ‘But I know this method helps people’s voice fill this hall’ or ‘I know this method makes people present when they’re responding to people.’ So they hang on to that curriculum. They say, ‘I know this leads to a particular acting skill’. I think really the way it becomes sustainable is if there’s a real conversation between ‘We know what you’re trying to achieve here in terms of pedagogy and what you’re trying to achieve in terms of skills, but are there different avenues in terms of the material that we’re using? In terms of access to that for everybody?’ So that people see themselves in that curriculum. So people see themselves in terms of the way those skills are taught. Until those two sides of the coin start to speak to each other more effectively, I think we’ve still got people who make curriculum who are digging in their heels in some institutions.

Time to research texts outside the traditional methods was also broached. One major problem with changing the curriculum was an acknowledgement that a heavy teaching load rarely allowed for research that would enable the curriculum to become more inclusive. It was felt that the staff themselves must take responsibility for finding alternative ways of teaching in order to make drama school training more inclusive. There was also consensus that students should not bear the burden of change in these institutions as they have entered these institutions to learn. II. Student wellbeing Student wellbeing was also a major topic of the Diversity School Initiative’s final event with discussions about both safe spaces, safe training and allyship dominated the conversation. The provocation “What makes a safe space?” led to a lively discussion which had multiple responses. The first contribution to the discussion was from a self-identified gay man who was HIV-positive and who had found himself in a rehearsal room for Angels in America with an all-female cast (hastening to say that was not his decision). An important lesson he drew from this experience was that it was not until he, as the person whose story was effectively being told in the Kushner play, said to the students, “It’s okay if you tell this story.” Until then, he felt that the students did not feel it was a safe space for the work to be conducted. As he puts it: “I think that’s a problem a lot of time in drama schools. People almost need some leadership to say ‘This is a safe space’”. Another strand to the discussion was rooted in the fact that there is no single version of a safe space. This was predicated on an acknowledgement that individuals in a marginalised group have experiences from their own point of view. Within the context of the discussion, it was felt that it is important to acknowledge both the existence of other communities and that those communities may have different experiences to one another. As one participant put it,


Diversity School Report 2021 Written and conducted by Jami Rogers

As a teacher, you have to understand that there is no such thing as a safe space. It is your job to understand that everybody’s boundaries are going to be slightly different. So even if the consensus in the room is this is a really safe space, there’s probably someone who isn’t feeling that or who isn’t experiencing that and who isn’t able to articulate that.

Moving on to ensuring training is safe, one key recommendation was that students should be empowered to speak. This could be as simple as teachers providing information about who they can speak to about any issues, including with tutors. This could include clearly pinpointing who students could go to at the beginning of every session. More dialogue between students and staff was also recommended by the participants, as both students and staff who attended the final event. Other suggestions posited included the development of an external reporting body to which students could go without fear of reprisal for serious complaints, such as those laid out earlier in this report. It was also felt that allyship was extremely important to incorporate into drama school training as the institutions continue to evolve their training practices. One particularly pivotal section of the conversation revolved around a need to introduce bystander intervention into working practice. The example provided was that of a visually impaired student who was in a class with a visiting lecturer who began class by throwing a ball. The visually impaired student was not able to participate in the activity and this student’s recollection was of another classmate grabbing the ball, stating “We’re not doing that” to the visiting lecturer and explaining about his friend’s visual impairment. It was also felt by several participants that students could benefit from repeated lessons in allyship. One staff member observed that white students were struggling to speak about race, so he felt his students could benefit from guidance on how to speak up about racism. In an example of differing experiences, another staff member had found that students were too forthcoming in talking about race. In the second example, it was a case of too much freedom of expression that had led to racist comments in the classroom. Both examples showed the need to build a dialogue with the students that could lead to constructive allyship within the student body of drama schools. Overall, the major conclusions to the evening were: 1. Drama schools have an important role in defining what the industry is – and could be. 2. We need to give students the agency to speak up during their training, because they know that their safety is important. 3. Student safety is a priority, not fearing that your institution will be embroiled in the next press scandal because of its bad professional practices.

IV. Policy Recommendations.


Diversity School Report 2021 Written and conducted by Jami Rogers

In handing over to drama schools, the Diversity School Initiative has the following policy recommendations: 1. An external reporting body should be set up for students to safely report incidents of sexual harassment, racism, sexism, homophobia and all other harmful behaviours. This external body should have the power to investigate allegations and to discuss appropriate sanctions against any student or staff member found to have committed acts of aggression, verbal or physical. 2. Drama schools should commit to revising the curriculum so that it better represents all students.