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True Talent, Equal Access?

February 7, 2018

On the tube home from “Barnum,” something very interesting happened.

Fairly near the end of the line, my section of the carriage was empty, except for me in the corner… I suspect that my new choice of deoderant wasn’t quite the sucess I’d hoped with the travelling public. Anyway, at the next station,  a group of 8 or so late teenage boys got on. Pretty much the type of urban bunch you’d expect to find, if you are a reader of certain newspapers. Mostly black, with 2 or 3 white who adopt the same speech patterns, attitudes and behaviour.

They were bantering as boys do, about how they crashed the ticket barrier without paying (yeah, I bought that one – not), how they’d be getting off at the next stop, who had done what to whom, etc, etc. Oblivious to me, yet registering the middle aged male presence in the corner. And no, I wasn’t concerned in the least. Not THAT long ago since me and my friends must have appeared very similar to those now approaching retirement age.

Suddenly, one switched on the speaker on his phone. A little clapping from then all, then 2 started using the handrails as gymnastic poles, 2 more simply danced to the music. Anti-social behaviour? Perhaps… but…

Fact: this was raw talent, purest and simplest form.

Fact: I’d have paid to see it.

As it was, I was similing and laughing. The boys noticed, and included me in the film one of them was taking on his phone.

They got off at the next station, with a cheerful wave (reciprocated).

I was left energised and elated, a piece of private street theatre of the highest quality – and unless there is a youtube of it somewhere, it’ll never be seen again.

About 10 seconds later, though, I almost drowned in a bath of depression.

Think about it. Those young men were (and I’m going to make a HUGE assumption, which I really, really hope I am wrong about) quite probably “typical.” No particular education, no particular direction to go in. Genuinly decent young men…

…. with the kind of talent that would have any professional theatre maker with any sense drooling. For movement, for “performance” (yes, they knew damn well the show was for both theirs and my benefit) and for improvising.

At that moment, I suddenly understood just how hard it is for anyone outside of those already “inside” to not just begin a career in the arts – but to actually even know that it a potential option, or to find the guidance to bring it to fruition. “Diversity” and similar acts delighted thousands every night at the Palladium last Christmas – and these guys, well, several of them, honestly had the potential. And I say that with my own “professional” hat on, as someone who passes opinions on live performance for a living.

I don’t have a clue how this can be channelled, but I do know it has to be a fairly cheap to create way of giving hope, interest, even employment to a section of society beneath the radar. There probably are some “outreach” workers engaged on this at the moment, I hope so, and that there are more to come.

Meanwhile, if I were a casting director or drama school admissions supervisor, I just might be grabbing a travelcard rather than a copy of “Spotlight.” There is more to performing life than is dreamed of in your philosophies, Hamitonio…



  1. Francesca Clementis permalink
    February 7, 2018 9:41 am

    A good friend of mine, Sue Radford is Executive Director of Intermission, a theatre company set up for at risk and ex-offender young adults, most black and Asian. Mark Rylance became their patron and, last month, it was announced that Naomie Harris is also joining as a patron. Utilising Mark Rylance’s connections with the RSC, they are using Shakespeare as the foundation of all their work. Last year Freya and I went along to see their production of Double Trouble, an original play blending original language from ‘The Comedy of Errors’ and street language. We went along as a favour to a friend, expecting little to be honest. Mark Rylance was there (this tiny company is based in rooms over a church in Knightsbridge and he spends a LOT of time training these young people. He flew back from New York for this opening night). It was a revelation. All of these young people were so gifted, terrific comic timing, some moving deleivery of the original language. Freya and I were crying with laughter. It was one of my most memorable theatrical experiences. ALL of the cast were poorly educated and came from the most deprived backgrounds. After the show, some of them told their stories – it was hair-raising. I know that many of the young people from this company have gone on to win scholarships to drama school or gone directly into paid acting work. But even more memorable was the audience – as well as the Bishop of London (the charity is Christian) and some people like us supporting a charitable cause, the bulk of the audience was young, black and Asian, scary-looking youths to be frank, friends of the cast, there to support their friends. We spoke to them in the interval. It was the first time they’d ever been to any kind of theatre. They loved every minute. They laughed loudly, whooped a lot but were respectfully silent when that response was called for. They didn’t need to be told this, they just did it. I can’t wait for their next production. I was profoundly moved to see the power of theatre to transform lives. I’m glad the youths you encountered on the tube got to experience your reaction and I hope it resonated with them.

    • Steve Rich permalink
      February 7, 2018 11:06 am

      I’ve just had a look at their website, I’ll make sure something is heading their way very shortly. That’s amazing what they are doing, and I can imagine what the live performance must have been like, given the experience I had. I can also guess at the stories and am delighted at the results. As for bringing in their friends, that’s one heck of a bonus.

      I can only hope my reaction did resonate. Your reply makes me feel slightly better, as I thought the wall was totally impenetrable. Even that small crack is something… but oh how I felt that barrier and hated it. Still, at least there is hope.

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