“Scotland as a country is becoming more and more diverse, but the theatre scene hasn’t quite embraced that yet. One thing Scotland needs to strive for is to create a theatre scene diverse enough that artists will want to stay”, says Sara Shaarawi, the driving force behind Megaphone, a kick-starter which aims to support Scottish theatre-makers of colour. This call to action is more urgent than before in the face of increasingly popular racist and xenophobic voices heard in Trump’s America, a brexiting United Kingdom, and all across Europe. The contrasting atmosphere of acceptance and inclusivity in Scotland must be supported by bold and progressive actions aiming to promote stories told by marginalised group of people; Sara Shaarawi’s Megaphone, a project in collaboration with an arts collective Workers Theatre, is a fantastic stepping stone.
Backed by over 450 contributors over on kickstarter.org, it will provide bursaries, mentorship, rehearsal space and a public performance for three theatre-makers or theatre-collectives of colour based in Scotland. Not only does it offer financial support, it also provides artists with a community and a web of connections. Shaarawi pledges to continue working with the successful applicants after they have a showing of their work: “I would like to create a residency that follows up with the artist once the development period offered is over, a residency that is sustainable and committed to the professional development of artists of colour in Scotland”. This way artists will be able to continue developing their skills after Megaphone; an opportunity seldom presented by residencies of this sort.
“In the past two years, I’ve been told in private conversations that my best bet is to take my work to London because I will not find the interest in my work here. I’ve been told that I will struggle to find actors of colour and that my audience in Scotland isn’t cosmopolitan enough”, confesses Shaarawi. Scotland often prides itself on inclusivity and warmth unique to Scotland; living up to these claims means providing platforms for people of colour, but also immigrants, disabled people, queer people, anyone and everyone who is underrepresented in the mainstream culture. Sarah has faith in the local theatre scene, advocating that its diversity needs to match with the diversity of ever-changing Scottish communities. Theatre thrives when it is open to everyone; Megaphone echoes this message, hoping it resonates with artists all across the country.
Since both Scotland and the University of Glasgow communities are predominantly white, I asked what non-POC audiences and theatre-makers can do to support the diversification of Scottish art. Sara encourages those involved in the theatre scene to offer platforms to artists of colour through training, commissioning, programming and casting. She also warns about the dangers of whitewashing and asks artists to take a stance against it. For consumers of art, “something as small as reading more work by artists of colour would be useful, showing genuine interest, being aware and careful that their interest doesn’t exoticise”. The willingness to listen to individual stories is a great way to avoid essentialising other cultures; inclusive theatre provides this opportunity to encounter personal narratives in a direct and immersive manner.
Projects like Sara Shaarawi’s Megaphone strive for a more diverse, progressive and exciting art scene. This aim should be appealing to everyone in favour of a continuously developing Scotland. When asked what kinds of pieces she would like to see in the future, Sara replied: “I want to see stories from different cultures and in different languages. I want to see more accessibility and more artists with disabilities on stage and more people with disabilities in theatres. I want to see more queer work that punches me in the gut. I want to see work that is difficult and challenging. I want to see Scotland and all its complexities reflected on its stages”. Theatre-makers need to listen to marginalised stories and promote voices from all walks of life; only then will we see an increase in art that is refreshing, poignant and truly inclusive.