The world of audio feels like the one artistic arena where how you look shouldn’t matter and yet somehow the invisible hierarchies still trickle through. The world is, at best, unconsciously biased and, at worst, deeply elitist in outlook. Equity’s Audio Committee has formed a Diversity working group consisting of Ashabi Ajikawo, David Thorpe and myself and we are determined to improve inclusion and diversity within the Audio industry.
Diversity is a tricky and complicated topic, the issues generated by it as roiling and difficult to pin down as a wave. Even the word ‘diversity’ feels more typically affiliated with racial diversity, and whilst this is one of the top concerns for the Audio Committee, both personally and politically, we also believe it should encompass concerns from a wide range of minority groups.
As a white-passing mixed-race actor I have a complicated relationship with diversity. My mixed heritage is often written off by people who say, with no shame, ‘oh but you look white’ -whatever that means. But heritage is not merely visual, it is cultural, biological and inherent. Lazy labelling like this drags us down in either direction. Perhaps labelling is what we need to find our tribe at first, to find people who have lived the same frustrations as us. But the labelling can also encourage those with a narrower outlook to see only that label and penalise people on something reductive. It can also close people off to conversation and exclude those of us that tread the peripheries of race, sexuality and identity. If you are being marginalised by your own community, is it any wonder progress does not get made in the professional realm? And of all the areas in our industry, if any should be solely about talent it is audio. If your voice is right, that is all that should matter and that is the kind of goal to which we would like to aspire. Once that bypasses labels and eventually makes the need for them redundant.
But as it stands, there are currently numerous roadblocks to audio for a lot of people. After not being allowed to go to drama school I felt constantly like I was catching up with vastly more experienced peers. My ‘breakthrough’ in the audio work came about thanks to a BBC Radio Drama competition called the Norman Beaton Fellowship. This annual focuses on actors who have not had traditional training and works closely with companies like Yellow Earth, Tamasha and Graeae who all champion minority actors. The NBF’s core principle is to welcome actors who have not had a typical route into the industry, actors it would consider somewhat at a disadvantage. But it stands alone in a world of privilege and closed books. The more you look into it the more you see that wealth plays an important role in access, affording drama school, being able to focus solely on performing and not losing time to the side hustle, needing money for equipment, software. Couple this with outdated notions of class and the idea that a certain voice or style is the benchmark to which we should aspire, and you can see why it is easy to write off other voices as irrelevant.
I would love the Norman Beaton Fellowship to be a kind of model and inspiration for larger companies like Audible and Spotify. To make these gatekeepers more aware of the huge range of talent at their disposal and to enable newer performers who may not have access to this kind of work. Being frank, we are always in danger of all work going to a certain elite but when art’s role is to hold a mirror up to society it is only right that we reflect the huge range of skills talents, backgrounds and personalities that form that society.
Whilst the Audio Committee’s Diversity Working Group feel we can speak for some aspects of diversity we are keen to reach out to a wide range of groups, committees and actors who feel they have encountered certain roadblocks in accessing audio work. We would like to speak to the LGBTQ+ community, to D/deaf and disabled artists, women and anyone who feels their circumstances have seen them written out of the narrative. We would like to invite discussion in order to enable us to more adequately focus our next steps on inclusion, improving uptake at an educational level and amongst the top employers.
If you wish to offer thoughts, opinions and open up the conversation please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter at @Kerry_Gooderson and the Diversity Working Group will endeavour to form a policy around these concerns and where possible, meet or discuss with you further. We hope to hear from you soon.