Islington Community Theatre troupe flying the flag for diversity
- Credit: Bill Knight
All eyes will be on Hollywood this weekend as stars line up to attend the 88th Academy Awards. But this year’s Oscars have been crippled by controversy before anyone so much as opens an envelope, with some actors threatening to boycott the ceremony altogether.
The reason? For the second year running, every acting nominee is white.
With diversity high on the agenda for the industry, the Gazette stops by at the Islington Community Theatre in Holloway to find out how young people from diverse racial and social backgrounds are being given a leg-up onto the local stage.
“When we [switch] on TV we just see non-black people, and get really put off,” says theatre member Segen Yosife, 17.
“You see them and just think: ‘Oh, their family is rich, and that’s how they got into it, or their family were actors before.’
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“However, since being a member of the Islington Community Theatre I’ve visited and performed in the National Theatre – and most of the people you see on TV haven’t done that.”
The Islington Community Theatre was first established in 2008 and, unlike most drama schools, members don’t have to pay to attend.
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“We work with young people aged 11 to 19,” says executive director Adam Coleman, 35.
“Most are referred to us through teachers or social workers as those that might benefit from the programme.
“We then hold an informal audition, but it’s more like workshop auditions. We like to be more chilled about it – otherwise it’s a bit X-Factor and that’s not our style.”
Central to the theatre’s ethos is allowing its members to bring their own unique experiences to the performance. Members are called “theatre makers” because they “make the show” rather than just acting.
“We never pick up other people’s scripts,” says Adam.
“We always tie in the work that comes out of our members so it’s about their perspective on the world and that’s because we want to show adults what it means to be young and in London.
“The autobiographical elements require them to be quite mature in their theatre-making because they have to choose material they’re effectively sharing with people.”
In Boat, a play about refugees and journeys, members share their own real-life immigration stories throughout the performance.
In one, a girl tells the story of her father, a political activist who was jailed and fled to England and now smokes excessively to forget the pain. In another, a theatre member tells her experience of moving to England from Portugal, not understanding a word of English and being teased and called a “freshie” by her classmates.
“We made a play about refugees and about journeys, but we tried to relate it to ourselves whilst we were devising,” says Segen. “We did lots of solo pieces and flocking [movement] which we included in our performance.”
Feed, by comparison, focuses on our growing love for technology.
“In the beginning of the play I read out a love story to my phone where I talk about how technology is expanding,” says Michael Adewale, 15. “It’s the first thing we reach for every morning.”
Members stay with ICT up to the age of 19, attending weekly workshops, rehearsals and holiday projects.
“It’s a journey,” says Michael, “so you develop throughout the process.
“Then if you feel theatre is the way you want to go, the staff encourage you to take the opportunity.”
Theatre companies are still the main method of sourcing talent in the UK.
But with only 10 per cent of actors coming from working class backgrounds and earning on average £10,000 a year less than their middle class peers, one can only hope initiatives like ICT continue to thrive.