Theatre is entertainment. It makes us laugh, it makes us cry. Theatre makes us sing and dance and helps us understand the world around us. That makes theatre so much more than entertainment.
Theatre celebrates stories about people. Humble times, times of joy and grief and change. In my opinion, the best theatre challenges our perceptions of ourselves and others, helps us walk in different shoes and understand different lives. And with challenge, comes change. That’s why it is so important to see a diversity of people on stage and also celebrate diversity in everything we do, across every department.
For over 70 years, Pitlochry Festival Theatre has been the Theatre in the Hills, sitting perched on the edge of the River Tummel and looking out to Ben-y-Vrackie, the spectacular ‘Speckled Mountain’. We are known for producing large-scale plays and musicals as well as a literary festival and a digital programme. In our work, we aim to encourage variety in what our 100,000 visitors a year come and see. Different voices and stories and perspectives should resonate in our theatres and be a reflection of the future - and that includes the future of theatre itself.
Diversity ‘behind the scenes’
To remain relevant and engaging in our changing world, theatres need to appeal to a wide range of people. They need to reflect a wide range of voices and we need to see all kinds of people in roles both onstage and off.
Offstage roles such as set design, production, costumes and front of house are often left out of conversations on theatre and diversity – but are equally important.
Our Summer Season will see stories being told from Roman Britain, Civil War America, 1930s France and modern-day Scotland. This wide range of time periods will be represented in a visual festival of set and costumes celebrating the different time periods our productions span.
I put the question ‘What does diversity mean to us?’ to my colleagues ‘behind the scenes’ at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Here’s what they said:
“Wardrobe departments bring together a variety of personalities, with open minded approaches. The costumes, eras, escapism, textiles, and fabrics bring life and passions to all diversities.”
Julie, Wardrobe Manager
From a Front of House perspective:
“We want our audiences to enjoy their visit and find something in our programming for them. A trip to the theatre depends on the individual and what they are looking for. Is it a diverse programme where they see comedy or drama, musical or new writing? Are they also looking for life represented on stage through diversity of casting? Diversity in hospitality is essential so that we can communicate with all walks of life, the more diverse our staff team is the better our customer service will be.”
Jen, Box Office and Front of House Manager and Mike, Head of Operations
Diversity on the stage
As a rep theatre, we work with an ensemble of actors across our summer season. This year, we have 20 actors, most working in three different shows. Our casting matrix is a work of art in itself, showing the different opportunities for cross casting. Actors often find themselves with a breadth and depth of roles they wouldn’t usually experience.
Our open casting process encourages unrepresented actors to apply and we work with the Scottish Casting Network to make sure our casting calls are transparent. We also support freelance artists develop their own work through our Musical Commissioning Hub with Capital Theatres, a project supporting the development of three new musicals with Scottish artists, and the National Partnership Programme with the Pleasance Theatre, a programme supporting local artists bringing work to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In the last 2 years, it has been especially important for us to think beyond the physical stage. Through our online programming, we have been able to reach out to artists further afield and have enjoyed welcoming them to conversations and activities online including our Virtual WritersRoom, writing workshops and our In Conversation series with RTYDS , a series of conversations between our Artistic Director, Elizabeth Newman and other Artistic Directors across Great Britain. We have also kept in touch with our audience remotely with Sound Stage, and audio digital theatre experience launched in January 2021 in collaboration with the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh and Naked Productions.
Beyond the stage
“We want our spaces to deliver experiences that are inclusive, creative, respectful, and welcoming. It is only by collaborating with diverse groups of people that we invite the unique perspectives everyone brings to a project, to benefit from both the lived experience and the professional expertise of each member of the team.”
Emma, Head of Project Development
Diversity, like life, comes in all shapes and sizes. I always recommend a varied diet to allow young people to see what’s on offer, to engage with different styles and genres and buildings and companies to allow them confidence that their own voices are important and that theatre is a medium for their stories. That includes making sure young people are aware of the full range of creative careers on offer in the theatre, not just the ones they might have heard of or the most obvious ones on-stage.
"Work placements and work experience are a fantastic way to share our professions with young people who are figuring out if the work we do is something they also want to do. Working with our local schools, we offer a work placement carousel week, allowing experience in all departments including wardrobe, workshop, lighting and sound, front of house, hospitality and marketing."
Amy, Associate Director
By showing theatre isn’t just about what goes on on-stage, we share the possibilities and passion collaboration brings. It takes collaboration to create a show. It takes collaboration to share the show. And by ensuring people from all backgrounds are represented on stage and off, we strengthen what we have to offer audiences, ensuring that the plays and performances we put on stage reflect their different backgrounds and traditions.
It is vital that audiences today are able to see themselves represented and theatre can play a big part in this. Pearson’s current #IfIWere campaign for drama students is an example of this. And it’s not just the actors on stage but through the productions - storyline, costumes, settings, music - and production teams sharing their artistic visions, that theatre has the power to bring people together, highlight different views and opinions and celebrate the world within which we live.
For more information Pitlochry Festival Theatre, visit their website.
Find out more about their support of artists