Statements and policies that set out our positions, procedures and actions.
The Covid lockdown has provided an opportunity to reflect on a number of issues, and one of these has been our position and policy on equality, diversity and inclusion at the Criterion. We have always prided ourselves on the way in which we aim to be open and welcoming to everyone who comes through our doors. However, the recent demand for change, born of George Floyd’s murder and the wider Black Lives Matter movement has provided a particular catalyst for serious reflection.
In response, many theatre and arts organisations have proclaimed their positioning around anti-racism, and we are able to look to these for inspiration. In particular, the Royal Court Theatre, London has been particularly influential in this, with their powerful statement pushing us to try and do something equally ground-breaking within our own context. We know that we are a quite different organisation, but we share the sentiment wholeheartedly, there are many shared areas of application and we are determined to try and make change. Our own statement below draws heavily on the public statement from that organisation which we have amended and adapted to our own context and situation.
We are living through a historic moment in 2020 with the Black Lives Matter movement. It is our responsibility as trustees of a theatre and charitable organisation, to work out ways that we can reflect on our own organisation, our practices and our culture and try to make lasting change happen.
We acknowledge that theatre in this country, and so including the Criterion Theatre, Coventry, is institutionally racist. We understand that while we communicate our anti-racist solidarity, there are people who have may have experienced racism and discrimination at our hands, conscious or unconscious – we acknowledge that and must take responsibility for it as the Board of Trustees.
It is important that we define institutional racism so we can recognise it.
‘Institutional racism is that which, covertly or overtly, resides in the policies, procedures, operations and culture of public or private institutions – reinforcing individual prejudices and being reinforced by them in return whether conscious or unconscious’ (Royal Court Theatre, 2020).
We recognise that we are part of wider society, in which historical, economic, political and social developments include the embeddedness of a racist narrative built on white supremacy and privilege. We need a deeper understanding of the way our cultural institutions have developed, in order to shift the white dominance of the arts and society.
We recognise that we are a predominantly white organisation, with a company membership that is not reflective of the ethnic diversity of our local community and the city of Coventry. We must acknowledge that our artistic programming is almost exclusively based around plays written by white people for white people. Our productions involve cast, crews and front of house teams which are almost exclusively white.
We need to have serious reflection and consideration about this. What are the constructs of the Criterion’s dramaturgical, cultural and organisational practice, developed over nearly 60 years? How much bias, control and complicity is there within our ways of working and support of homosocial (‘people like me’) practices which could work against inclusivity?
We would all aspire that our organisation and our artistic and social activities programme seek to be 'for, and include, all people, reflecting a multitude of different voices and lived experiences'. However, do we think that our work and our language is specific enough to the individuals and groups that make up our wider intersectional community within Coventry? Are we sure that we have avoided appropriating race/ethnicity when it suits/benefits us?
We must do some focused and thorough work to understand and break down the barriers and prejudices which stifle true equality and transformation, wherever this is experienced and for all who experience this.
Understand experiences: Can we open up a suitable ways of hearing people’s experiences of racism, bias and discrimination in our organisation? If we were able to, from this work, we might be able to find appropriate ways to be accountable to those who have experienced racism in our organisation and then to establish the necessary actions to ensure this can no longer happen. We will almost certainly need help and support in this from individuals and organisations outside of the Criterion’s usual stakeholder circles to hold up a mirror to ourselves from an independent perspective.
Facilitate reporting: for anyone working with or at the Criterion, to raise experiences of structural racism, discrimination, micro-aggressions and injustice at the Criterion. This will require revision of our Code of Behaviour policies and reporting procedures, which will be overseen by the Board.
Encourage new members: from all communities and work to increase representation across all areas of our organisation of people who experience racism, especially those of African or Caribbean heritage and South Asian, East Asian and South East Asian heritage.
Focus on casting: as the key to everything. On stage is where a person's race/ethnicity can really affect the opportunities they are given. We need to have a well-publicised, strong commitment to, and monitored practice of, the general principle of race/ethnicity neutrality in all our shows, except where race/ethnicity is central to the story.
Commit to positive action targets: around types of production and processes of auditions and casting. We will critique our dramaturgy – do we only respond to stories we recognise or that affirm our bias?
Revise our policies and procedures: Include anti-racism specifically within our Code of Behaviour and as transparent considerations within our policies and systems for reading work, programming and organising activities.
As we move forward out of this period of reflection into one of action, we will ensure that our commitment to anti-racism, is publicised and celebrated, is committed to and operationalised in all that we do, and is monitored vigilantly for progress, so that it becomes part of the DNA of the Criterion Theatre.
The Board of Trustees August 2020.