PROSPER MAGAZINE: DIGITAL EDITION
REACHING MORE PEOPLE THROUGH THE MAGIC OF THEATRE
Wolverhampton Grand Theatre has always been on a mission to increase diversity in its audiences. In April 2020 Arts Council England announced a £160 million emergency response package to the Covid-19 pandemic. A proportion of this money was set aside for Non-NPO organisations of which The Grand is one.
Over the last three years The Grand Theatre has made huge strives with its Community and Audience Development work and the funding, a total of £30,000 for The Grand, will be used to continue the work over the next twelve months.
The theatre, currently closed due to the Coronavirus crisis, has been part of Wolverhampton for over 125 years, and Prosper spoke to Vicky Price, Associate Director of Development and Communications, to find out more.
“We are absolutely thrilled to receive this funding from the Arts Council. The work carried out by the dedicated Grand Theatre team has created a huge sense of pride and accomplishment.
"As an un-funded organisation, we have previously used our own finances to carry out this work. We are now facing a challenging time in the wake of COVID-19, therefore knowing that we have the funds' ring-fenced for this is extremely comforting.”
“There’s a perception that theatre is a middle- to upper-class past time or that ‘it isn’t for them,’ said Vicky.
“At The Grand, we want to quash this belief. We believe the arts are for everyone. It’s not just about entertainment. It’s also about learning about different ways of life, exploring themes and emotions, and inspiring audiences.”
“There’s a business case for more diverse audiences too. If more people feel welcome at the theatre, there’s a bigger market for ticket sales, and fuller audiences mean healthier finances.
“Wolverhampton is a wonderfully multicultural city and it is important to us that audiences represent our communities. As the South Asian community makes up 30% of Wolverhampton, we recognise that this hasn’t been the case. However, we’ve taken action and progress is being made.
“In 2018, we commissioned Audience Development Consultant Hardish Virk to facilitate our approach. In this role, he has delivered outreach distribution, advised on audience research and provided mentoring and staff training. Importantly, he brought together individuals to form the South Asian Ambassador Group. The group meets on a monthly basis with staff to help us to make the theatre more welcoming, and they engage their communities to promote the Grand and programme of shows.
“The positive impact of this work was shown last year in the National Theatre’s Macbeth. On 1 February 2019, the total of South Asian bookers represented 1.5% of the Macbeth audience. By the end of the run, this figure had risen to 10.5%.
“We’ve striven to gain more diversity on the Board of Directors so that the wider community is represented. In January 2020, Dawinder Bansal becomes the first female South Asian board member. Dawinder is a fantastic addition to the board as she brings a wealth of experience as an award-winning British producer and artist. She has a track record of producing brand new stage shows and creating immersive art installations by weaving South Asian cultural heritage and contemporary stories into her work.
“Reaching out to children and young people has also been an integral part of the strategy. In 2018, we sponsored The Khalsa Academy Wolverhampton, an inclusive Sikh ethos school. The Khalsa Academy doesn’t have a drama department and had never previously been to the Grand Theatre. Thanks to the sponsorship, 250 children came to see Macbeth, and more were able to enjoy the National Theatre’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when it twice played at the school.
“The South Asian Ambassador Group goes from strength to strength and from 2021 we plan to diversify into different communities in Wolverhampton. It’s not just about audience development, but also in programming shows that appeal to wider audiences. Due to the nature of planning, this is a long-term approach and the impact will be seen in 18 months’ time.
“Diversity isn’t a short-term strategy. It’s a commitment so that more people can enjoy and benefit from the magic of theatre,” concluded Vicky.
Consultant Hardish Virk said, "The debate around diversity, inclusion, access and equality is nothing new to the arts sector, but what is satisfying is when an arts organisation commits to strategic development and change.
“Wolverhampton Grand Theatre has demonstrated over the last 18 months a cross-departmental commitment to developing South Asian audiences (who make up a high percentage of the local ethnic population but historically has not been reflected in the theatres' audiences).
“This has included a process of setting up an ambassadors' group; addressing representation on the board, staff and in the programming; developing local and regional partners; community outreach work; audience development campaigns; cultural awareness training and mentoring for existing staff.”