Spymonkey & Black Lives Matter – Statement and Action Plan

INTRODUCTION

Lockdown has given all of us a lot of time to think.

And there’s been a heck of a lot to think about. George Floyd, BLM, British empire & slavery, Reclaiming the Streets, grinding social exclusion, Brexit fallout, peak Trump (?) and resurgent xenophobic nationalism, all with the incessant drumbeat of the ongoing climate crisis.

Not many laughs.

As we struggle to come to terms with these crises, and our response to them both as artists and human beings, over the last year we’ve spent some time thinking, reading, reflecting, talking to each other and to other people. Reflecting on who Spymonkey are, what we do, how best to leverage maximum effect from the effort available.

Most urgently, with the murder of George Floyd and ensuing #BlackLivesMatter protests have forced a reevaluation about our privileges as white Europeans, a recognition that we have not done enough to address the inherent unfairness of our British and European society for people who are not White.

We recognise that we’re at the start of this process, that we must do better. We recognise that it’s uncomfortable examining these things. We recognise that this discomfort is insignificant when compared to actually experiencing racism. We recognise that racism takes many forms, and that it is a problem for all of us. And a problem that requires action by all of us to do something about. We recognise that social taboos around race, the worries White people have about ‘saying the wrong thing’, using the wrong language, or causing offence by calling attention to ethnicity for example, often prevent them from acting and making positive change to the ways that things are used to be doing, and trying to do things better.

As an ensemble of artists from across Europe committed to social justice, we also recognise that racial prejudice is not confined to one ethnic group, and that prejudice and wider social injustice take many forms, and which also need to be addressed.

We fully acknowledge that as an independent theatre producer and training organisation, we have a responsibility to address issues of diversity in the wider theatre industry, and specifically within physical theatre, physical comedy and clown. The work needed to improve diversity is not just for those who have it written into their funding agreements. We also know that this is a long-term process of learning, listening and action which we commit to for all future areas of our work.

One of the things about Spymonkey is that we spent a long time working with the same people. That in a way is part of the brand – a bunch of intensely collaborative idiots, who love to laugh at each other, and like it even more when an audience laughs at them too. For a company who don’t receive any regular funding, who’ve had to duck and dive and light-footedly dodge between our artistic endeavours, commercial work, teaching, that is an increasingly rare thing, to keep a more or less stable group of creative people together through that time. But it does mean that the flow of new people into our organisation has been vanishingly small. And there are a very small number of non-White people amongst those.

When we think about the people we need to get a project off the ground – directors, designers, performers – we need to look far more carefully at the criteria we are using to make those choices. Because making theatre, and particularly the intensely collaborative theatre that we tend to make, is such a ridiculously risky endeavour that only idiots would ever embark upon, when it comes to building a team we like to play safe, to, to reach for the easiest, most risk-averse choices – someone you’ve worked with before, a recommendation from someone else you’ve worked with before, etc, etc And the chances are that that person is someone who looks like you, who moves in the same circles as you, who thinks like you.

We’re not making excuses, just acknowledging how privilege maintains itself so that we can do something about dismantling it. So these actions are all targeted at ways in which we can improve our practice. They are not exhaustive, they are first steps. We will continue to work our way through these, making mistakes, being open about what we are trying to do and evaluating their effectiveness, and we look forward to going on that journey with you.

Spymonkey Diversity Action Plan

When we refer to the Global Majority and those of mixed heritage, we have defined these as people who identify as people from racialised backgrounds and for our 2021/22 workshop bursary places and Spymonkey Would Like to Meet project we specifically welcome people who have faced barriers to access as a result of either systemic or interpersonal racism such as:

  • Black people – those of African heritage, Caribbean heritage, and those who are part of the African diaspora
  • South, East, South East Asian and those who are part of the Asian diaspora
  • Mixed heritage people and other racially or ethnically marginalised people

There are three strands of work to address the inequalities within our organisation:

  • Artistic work
  • Training and education
  • Staff and governance

This Action Plan is the outcome of a series of meetings between the four core members of Spymonkey (Toby Park, Aitor Basauri, Emily Coleman and Natasha Britton) held in throughout 2020 and 2021 in light of the necessary and ongoing work we must do in order to diversify our team and the artistic and training projects we deliver as an organisation.

We acknowledge that we may not have got everything right, despite our best intentions and recognise that we need to improve and continue this work. We also reflect that whilst this is representative of some of the work we’ve done, and more of what needs to be competed, not everything we do is seen in the public sphere but we welcome and will take heed of feedback that is given to us.

SPYMONKEY’S ARTISTIC WORK

Work to be done through our artistic output:

  • Proactively see shows by directors from the global majority and those of mixed heritage.
  • Go and meet directors from the global majority and those of mixed heritage to ‘get to know them’ and exchange understanding of our practices
  • Research and compile a database of contacts to send casting opportunities to
  • Implement targeted casting workshops for performers from the global majority and those of mixed heritage.
  • Run a series of Spymonkey Introduction to Clowning workshops targeted at performers from the global majority and those of mixed heritage to create an opportunity for creative exchange
  • Provide an introduction and orientation session at the start of any creative project to ensure new creatives to our process feel welcome and included
  • Ensure clear routes of communication for new creatives to our process to feedback their experience and ways of addresses any systematic racism within our ways of working are highlighted and dealt with
  • Identify areas of access which might be necessary for cast/creatives at early stage of project – ask each person within cast and wider team if they have any access and/or well-being needs
  • Draw up a document of access/well-being needs to be shared with team
  • Budget line for access and well-being (inc counselling) into all future touring

TRAINING AND EDUCATION

What we have done through our education and training work:

  • Offered 2 Brassmonkey Bursary places to artists from the global majority and those of mixed heritage, artists with disabilities or from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, for our Clown Creation School
  • Positive recruitment for our Education and Training Officer position
  • Offered free online workshops during lockdown to artists from the global majority and those of mixed heritage. and directly connected with these people, alongside people who have disabilities.

Work to be done through our education and training work:

  • Spymonkey Diversity Statement to support this decision
  • Identify and work with training institutions with diverse students to deliver our workshops and develop relationships to encourage grassroots opportunities
  • Identify individuals and wider networks we can send information about upcoming workshops and bursaries too
  • Continue offering Brassmonkey Bursary with a focus for 2021/22 on artists from the global majority and those of mixed heritage. Include this in comms (social media, newsletter, comms via partners – R&D)
  • Recruit a diverse team of associate artists to deliver our workshops in schools and colleges
  • Set benchmarks for increased number of diverse artists for future years
  • Agree a process by which we monitor the experience all associates, but particularly those from the global majority and those of mixed heritage and have a way of feeding back their experience of working with Spymonkey and ways for improvement
  • Set plan for workshopping artists from the global majority and those of mixed heritage. who are new to us, with a view to them becoming associate artists in the future

STAFF TEAM AND BOARD

  • Identify and contact consultant to work with us on our diversity and inclusion policies
  • Ensure core and extended team of freelancers are involved in the training
  • Continue to attend training and listening sessions to understand our position and what we can do to do better
  • All members of Spymonkey team to share best practice and useful information
  • Recognition that this is a long term process and not something we can address as a one-off project

To address representation on our Board

  • Spymonkey team to identify individuals from the global majority and those of mixed heritage who know Spymonkey and our work
  • Consult with existing board to recommend candidates who are from the global majority with expertise in education, law and fundraising as priority areas of support

Recruitment with positive recruitment

  • Policy to be written and implemented on any future recruitment
  • Acknowledge that any work we do in the US must include this too

Priorities and who’s responsible for delivering actions to be decided as a team and regular meetings to revisit this Action Plan and our progress will take place across the year.

Conclusion

As we set out in the opening paragraphs of this action plan, these are points along the way rather than the whole roadmap. We are actively trying to work out how to do things better. That we will mis-step, stumble, cock up, fumble, drop the ball, stub our toe, fail, argue about how to do things better, all go without saying.

As a company working specifically in comedy and theatre, we are well aware that our practice places us in the midst of a wider conversation about laughter in the 21st century: about the power dynamics of comedy, hitting up and hitting down, about the reliance of comedy on archetypes and stereotypes, about feeling safe enough to laugh at ourselves (or to have others laugh at us), about radicalism and maintaining a sense of humour. Mostly we have held this conversation with our audiences as part of our shows – that is, basically, our work. More and more we also do this in the form of teaching and professional training. Perhaps we need to be doing this more explicitly, in the form of actual dialogue – virtual, actual, live, blogged.

We will never ask people to contribute their time for free, to do the work we should have been doing all along. Where we need specialist support we will have budgets in place to pay them for their expertise. But in publishing this on our social media, we also hope you, dear public, will let us know your thoughts if you have any, on any of the aspects of this plan.

Resources, statements etc that we’ve read and used over the last year

BLM statements from other established theatre companies:
https://www.feveredsleep.co.uk/our-blog-1/on-white-privilege
https://www.geckotheatre.com/blog/black-lives-matter-at-gecko
https://www.toldbyanidiot.org/black-lives-matter

Other statements from producing theatre organisations:
China Plate https://chinaplatetheatre.com/black-lives-matter
Fuel Theatre https://fueltheatre.com/antiracismpledge // https://fueltheatre.com/the-new-normal-manifesto

ACE Action Plan Guidance

Other resources:

Arts Council England’s Action Plan Guidance

BAMEOver

Culture Central process
Culture Central The Pledge

About Race Podcast https://www.aboutracepodcast.com
Here me Now Podcast https://tamasha.org.uk/projects/the-hear-me-now-podcast/
Small Axe Podcast https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/brand/p0914msj

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Posted by > 21 September 2021