David Loumgair, Founder of COMMON, tells us about how the organisation came to be and more about the work they are doing now.
THE STORY OF COMMON
I am a proudly working-class theatre director who was born and raised in Scotland, and is now based in the Scottish Borders.
My work as a director specifically aims to present the complexity and humanity of realistic, ‘working-class experiences’ across Britain; deconstructing stereotypes and creating work which seeks to engage working-class audiences and communities who typically feel disengaged or actively excluded from theatre.
However, during both my early career, and as I have moved closer to reaching a mid-level, I have faced significant barriers in my attempts to build a sustainable career as a working-class director; barriers which are specifically related to infrastructural, socio-economic inequalities which permeate the UK theatre industry.
When I finally began to share the difficulties I was facing with my peers and on social networks, I learned that these barriers were also being faced by an exceptional number of working-class artists across multiple other disciplines and in many stages of their careers, including playwrights, producers and designers, who similarly found
career development or progression exceptionally difficult.
As a response to these barriers, faced both by myself and by my peers who come from working-class backgrounds, in January 2018 I founded the now deeply influential and impactful arts organisation: COMMON.
In recent years the ‘diversity debate’ has risen to the top of the agenda for theatres and arts organisations across the UK, who have made a powerful commitment to achieving greater representation of our society both on and off-stage.
However, socio-economic diversity has been neglected in this ‘diversity debate’. One of the most deeply-rooted inequalities in British theatre has historically been, and continues to be, an inequality of class, yet for decades the industry has not actively engaged with this issue.
COMMON was therefore established is a clear statement of intent that class diversity, inclusion, representation and accessibility must be as equally confronted as areas including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and disability in theatre’s diversity debate, and attention drawn to the intersectionality between these areas of diversity and socio-economics.
WHO ARE COMMON?
COMMON is a nationwide, non-profit arts organisation which exists to support the UK theatre industry in achieving greater socio-economic diversity, and to make theatre more accessible to the working-class; whether they be artists, audiences or communities.
We achieve this in two ways:
Firstly, we work as expert consultants in socio-economic diversity with theatres and arts organisations across the UK.
Secondly, we develop independent initiatives and opportunities to support the skill and career development of working-class artists across the UK, often delivered in partnership with theatres and arts organisations.
WHAT IS COMMON: GROUND?
COMMON: GROUND is our inaugural, nationwide initiative delivered with support from leading theatres and arts organisations across the UK.
COMMON: GROUND is a series of supportive, group discussions for artists who self-identify as working-class, with a specific focus on research and identifying barriers linked to socio-economic inequality in the UK theatre industry.
We partner with theatres to bring together working-class artists in their region, who are offered a platform to share the barriers to career progression that they face when building careers in theatre, and offer suggestions of what resources, opportunities or ‘interventions’ would help them overcome these barriers.
The discoveries made during a COMMON: GROUND event then act as the foundation for COMMON and the host venue(s) to discuss building a continued collaboration to eradicate these barriers.
We meet with senior management teams to discuss forming a continued relationship to support working-class artists in this region, and create practical solutions to eradicate these barriers, with the aim of supporting the venue’s existing work in becoming more accessible to working-class artists, audiences and communities.
Theatre Bristol are working with COMMON to deliver an event from their COMMON: GROUND initiative on Tuesday 29th January for artists who self-identify as working-class in Bristol and the South West, in partnership with Bristol Old Vic, Tobacco Factory Theatres and Travelling Light Theatre Company. Find the event details here.
Written January 2019.