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What if we fail? What if we get it wrong?

What if we fail?
What if we get it wrong?

The fear of failure we experience in the arts is understandable; what we do is inherently public and we rely heavily on maintaining a good reputation in the eyes of our audiences, funders, critics and industry colleagues to ensure our survival. We also live in a world of social media and lightning-fast news where a misplaced word or a poorly communicated decision can erupt into a social media storm or furore in the press.

Paying greater attention to diversity in casting is unlikely to put you or your organisation(s) at risk of reputational damage, but if you do experience issues around decisions you are making or how they are being interpreted by others, you may find the guidance produced by WhatNext? on meeting ethical and reputational challenges useful.

To avoid negativity towards the changes you want to make, you’ll need to be tooled up with knowledge and the ability to communicate your ideas clearly to others. There are dozens of resources that can support you in this listed on this site, along with some tips on effectively implementing change.

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Educate yourself

People can get tongue-tied when talking about diversity; they worry they’ll say the wrong thing or inadvertently use outdated language. This is understandable, but it’s not a reason to avoid the topic or seek to make positive change.

If you’re worried about terminology or how to constructively and appropriately engage in the conversation, the good news is that there are loads of resources out there that you can use to educate yourself, including a glossary of terms in our tools section.

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Don’t self-sabotage!

What might self-sabotage entail? Biting off more than you can chew or trying to run before you can walk. Setting yourself up with no option but to fail gives detractors the chance to say “see, we tried to open up our casts but it didn’t work – this proves it’s impossible.”

To avoid this, identify what the scale of change you want is and then be realistic about how you’re going to achieve it. If, for instance, a theatre commits to 50:50 male/female casting within a year it will only achieve this if the programming choices already made permit it.

Instead of committing to achieve this goal in 12 months, the theatre would be better placed to make the 50:50 commitment over, say, a three year period, thereby programming productions in years 2 and 3 that counterbalance the male-heavy bias the year 1 programme had.

This isn’t about the theatre letting itself off the hook, but making change at a pace that is realistic and sensitive to the conditions within which it is seeking to achieve this shift.

Of course, the theatre must keep focusing on change beyond this three-year period, or its programme is likely to slip back to being male-dominated. Likewise, the theatre should increase the nuance within its initial commitment – for example, focusing on a greater range of women (in terms of age, ethnicity, body type etc), represented in a wider range of roles and featuring in a more extensive variety of stories.

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