CLASS the elephant in the room was researched, written and performed as part of my Arts Council Wales supported Clore Fellowship (2015 – 2016) and was funded by the Arts Humanities and Research Council.
My academic supervisor for the project was Eva Elliott from Cardiff University School of Social Sciences.
The purpose of CLASS The Elephant in the room is to investigate the inherent social conditions that exist in the creative industries today; social conditions such as social class and geographic location that can influence and determine a career in the arts. It will pay attention to the contradictions that play out where class is considered, and how these contradictions continue to reproduce and reinforce class divisions.
It will be an auto-ethnographic study that draws from my own personal experience and combines it with interviews with others who share a similar position. It provides a personal testimony on working in a sector that is dominated by white, middle-class, males.
This report will be first and foremost delivered as a live performance debate that provides a resource for theatres, artists and institutions to use if they would like to form their own discussions around the themes of diversity and class.
I began my research by holding a number of workshops and group interviews n working class communities with a focus on identity, class and art. I chose two areas: St Mellons, an outer-city council estate, and Merthyr Tydfil, a post-industrial town in the South Wales Valleys. I was interested in these two places because they have a number of things in common
- There is low or no engagement with the substituted arts.
- They have been stigmatised by misleading narratives from the press, politicians and the media.
- They continue to be stigmatised as working class communities.
In each of these places I chose to work with different participants, being responsive to location and the culture of each place.
St Mellons I delivered a workshop with a local girls group at the youth centre. These girls had little or no access to the arts.
Merthyr Tydfil I delivered a drama workshop to 20 performing arts students at Merthyr. They had a deep understanding of the arts and are keen to pursue creative careers in the future.
There have been numerous reports documenting the inequalities within the creative sector. These reports have exposed that in the UKs fastest growing industry there are still barriers to poor people. In 2015 the Warwick report publically reported that diversity had plummeted in the sector. Vikki Heywood, chair of the Commission, identified that
“There are barriers and inequalities in Britain today that prevent [creativity] from being a universal human right. This is bad for business and bad for society.” A recent study at Goldsmiths University found that only 18% of Britain’s cultural workforce is born to parents with working-class jobs. Whilst these findings are impactful and have shaped and informed some organisations, it still feels as if other social and economic factors are forcing a societal drift towards privilege and exclusion.” (Heywood, 2015)
My interest in the exclusionary nature of the sector has led me to investigate the experiences of both current and former workers in this industry. I feel that these voices were sometimes missing and for us to make sense of the current situation we should pay attention to those who work inside it.
I sourced twenty interviews from a range of professionals and non-professionals – I interviewed actors, directors, choreographers, grime artists, MPs, producers, arts council officers and people who have participated in cultural activities. I wanted to capture the feeling of class within the sector, and then I subsequently used this material to create a performance based on real experience. These testimonies have been used as a starting point to create a response both written and performative. The interviews will be used in a later section of this report as a way of punctuating thoughts and ideas. I have anonymized some of the authors but identify them with their roles as a way of distinguishing how they’re positioned in this context.
CLASS the elephant in the room – the performance
This performance was the culmination of my research. It explored the possibilities of what needs to change in an industry that distances itself from working class people, culturally, socially and economically.
Performed by four actors and co-created with dramaturge Gareth Chambers – we created a piece that responded to class from a personal perspective as well as theoretical perspective, grounded in the voices of those that I had interviewed. Using the theatrical technique of verbatim the actors channelled these by listening to the interviews on headphones and speaking word for word those that I had interviewed. This technique is an interesting one and being aware of the power to edit and misconstrue stories, we kept the material unedited. Stories are powerful and we were all too aware of the responsibility that is in our hands as editors.
We then invited the audience to join us in a debate about the themes we had raised, we focused the debate around four topics.
CHANGE: How does it come about?
STUCTURE: What’s going on structurally?
WORKING CLASS ARTIST: Do you want to force your way into the system or is the system part of the problem?
DIVERSITY: Who does it include, exclude?