By Sunita Hinduja
I am not White, I am not Black. Mostly I am Brown or my new favourite term - Ethnically Diverse. I am a Woman. I am a Company Stage Manager.
I have a brown name - it has taken me many years to be proud of my name. My Industry, our industry made me hate it, because it was never spelt right, said right or understood or I realise now was not 100% welcome.
I am a minority in our Industry and in my field. I have spent most of my career being grateful to be in rooms, grateful to pass, thankful to not ever be asked my real opinion on my work environment.
That has changed - 2020 has been the strangest year for us all, but the pause has given me the time to step outside the space I take up in my sector and dissect it.
Inspired by a Twitter post, I went back through my CV, all 20 years of it and interrogated each job asking myself these questions:
How many members of my team and the technical teams were ethnically diverse? How many of the Creative team?
How many of the cast?
Did I experience, witness, or was complicit (this was most important) in anything that was racist or inappropriate?
What was the make up of the producing office or general Management team?
I thoroughly recommend this as an exercise to all my colleagues, not only because it was joyful to look through old programmes, but because it opened my eyes - nothing has changed in 20 years. The majority of Backstage roles, creative roles, senior management roles are held by people who have names that are easy to say. Maybe this very simple interrogation is needed by organisations and producers when making new work. And if we can’t find people to take these positions, let’s question why.
What the hell have I been doing for 20 years. Truth. Hiding in plain sight hoping to god no one ever asked how I was feeling in case it affected my employability;
How it felt to be the only person of colour in a room when a Marketing person referred to the invited guests at our Gala evening as “BAME Dressing” and watch nobody in our very senior room flinch or see my shock. Of course I didn’t say anything in the moment, of course I just sat in my grateful silence, until they all left - and I cried.
How it felt to have a director ball up his fist, hold it close to my face in front of a whole company and say “people like you can’t tell me what to do” when I politely asked him to stop shouting at the staff. Watch him leave the room call the producer and say he wouldn’t come back until I was “removed”. I wasn’t removed but neither was he, and I did not run my own tech so he didn’t have to look at people like me.
The list is extensive and complex - I am sure you all have many to add. Through my time spent with FMTW and with my new found confidence - I have been able to participate honestly and express an opinion. Have difficult conversations about how our experiences can inform and lead the change that is needed in our industry ready for its return. My opinion counts. So does yours.
I know the lack of diversity backstage is way more nuanced than I can unpack here. But I wanted to share my story so you know you aren’t alone in hiding. Organisations such as Stage Sight and Inc Arts UK are working tirelessly to highlight the issues and create change. However If you don’t have the capacity for that just now - that is also ok. It will come, it’s taken me 20 years, but know this - it is better to do the talking than to be an agenda point on a meeting held by people who are making assumptions about your lived experience. It is uncomfortable, always has been - I look forward to it not being. Let’s not allow the industry to cycle back into old habits because it is easy.
I am really glad I never changed my name to Sarah Smith (this is real) I feel like her path to becoming a Backstage Artist in 2020 would not have been as fun.