In the next instalment of our Diversity Spotlight series, we chat to Ahmet Ahmet, Director of Theatre and Arts support organisation, Get Into Theatre. We find out more about how the Centre Stage Report catalysed the organisation’s existence and what it’s greatest achievement so far have been in opening doors for young people from under-served backgrounds. We also learn more about how Ahmet’s personal experiences and family heritage have influenced his own journey through the sector and get his perspective on the future of theatre.
Can you tell us a bit about how Get Into Theatre came to be?
Ahmet: Get Into Theatre was born out of the Centre Stage Report, which was a report commissioned in 2016 by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation. The report concluded that theatre was extremely white and that training in the sector was particularly complicated in terms of barriers for Black, Asian and ethnically-diverse young people.
What it recommended in the report was that whilst there were diversity initiatives in theatre, knowing about them was still a problem. If you aren’t born into a theatre-going culture, accessing these initiatives is particularly hard. So, the report recommended that an online organisation should be set up to collect all kinds opportunities and information and communicate that, from one easy place, to young people across the UK. That started the set-up of Get Into Theatre in 2018 and we launched in 2019.
What has been your greatest achievement so far with Get Into Theatre?
Ahmet: Setting up Get Into Theatre, the big task was how I was going to get the theatre sector to accept us as a support organisation. I knew that we would only be successful if we were engaged adequately with the industry. If we weren’t able to get theatres to work with us, how would be able to represent the opportunities out there for young people?
So, I led a really difficult strategy of getting buy-in from theatres across the country and it was a huge task! I’m super proud that Get Into Theatre now works with 800 organisations across the country.
Another thing that I’m really proud of is that we inform all kinds of people about theatre careers but we specifically target Black, Asian and ethnically-diverse, low-income household and deaf and disabled young people. I’m so proud of our data to date—it indicates we have 42% low-income household young people within our network, 38% are telling us that they are Black, Asian and ethnically-diverse and 7% identify as living with a disability.
For me, that’s a huge achievement. Not only are we doing what we should be doing but we’re also reaching those who need us most.
What changes have you seen in the industry since the pandemic and how has that impacted your mission?
Ahmet: I think the pandemic has had a particularly massive impact on theatre as an industry. We can see that there is a real financial struggle, in both the funded and commercial sector. That said, things like the Arts Council England’s new 10-year strategy, Let’s Create, have put an emphasis on young people and increased pathways for their careers, especially those that are underrepresented and under-served.
That has been quite an interesting mechanism for us because we are seeing, despite the industry’s struggle post-pandemic, a lot of opportunities out there for young people. There’s a lot happening and theatre organisations are really being encouraged to create initiatives to diversify and look at ways to include young people that have, historically, been excluded.
How has your own personal experience in the theatre industry shaped your work?
Ahmet: I’m from a Turkish Middle-Eastern background, born into an immigrant family in England, so my entrance into theatre was pretty tough. When I revealed to my parents that theatre was what I wanted to do, I immediately faced a lot of barriers in terms of parental support and understanding. There were a lot of fears about the theatre sector, mainly to do with economic difficulties as a worker in the sector
I think my example is something that isn’t spoken about enough. Just because theatre now wants to open up and diversify doesn’t mean we’re suddenly going to start seeing ethnically-diverse people, like myself, flooding through the doors. There are precarious conditions in which young people have to work in and unless those improve, it’s going to be a very difficult place to access work and maintain a career.
I started out as a performer and I couldn’t maintain that and after 10 years, I had to move away from theatre and I retrained as a teacher in a secondary school. After progressing in my teaching career, I’ve come back to theatre leadership because I care so much about the industry. However, when I was younger, like a lot of working class people, I didn’t have the bank of mum and dad to support me when things got tough.
Even now, my family doesn’t really understand what I do or what the necessity is. They’ve never really been part of my career so I’ve almost had to live two separate lives—I have my family persona and then my career outside of that. But as long as I’m able to eat, they’re happy!
What is your perspective on the future of the theatre industry?
Ahmet: The good news is that the discussions on diversifying theatre—and the wider Creative Industries— to make it a more inclusive place have never been more engaged than they are today. That means that finally, I think we are moving to a place in which people are being made to feel included. I just hope that these discussions keep happening, keep growing and are here to stay.
What would you say is one of the biggest challenges?
Ahmet: An organisation like ours is only as secure as its funding. We all, as Arts organisations, face a certain level of risk of non-existence because we are funded. It’s a constant piece of work to ensure that we’re financially sustainable, able to be here and sustaining our legacy. It’s so important, as a sector, that we support each other so that we can keep doing what we do and we can only do this if we are taken seriously—and that includes financially.
Why do you think it’s so important for communities like Creative UK to exist?
Ahmet: We can’t have important discussions around diversity and inclusion amongst ourselves. We need an overarching organisation that’s going to go and lobby on a national scale, hold government accountable and represent one united voice.
Historically, there have been lots of small voices speaking and we haven’t been heard. That’s why I think it’s so important that we come together, represented by an organisation like Creative UK, so that we are finally heard louder and clearer. We can’t be inclusive alone. We need greater representation and to be recognised alongside all the other industries.