I want to express some problems with the current focus on ‘diverse representation’ as an aim for opera, where my experience is (and for classical music):
- It is harmful for marginalised people to come into environments that are not safe and supportive. How can we make sure that we are not encouraging ‘diverse talent’ into harmful situations? Is the positive story we want to tell about representation making life harder for people who are already here? On the other hand, how can we be honest about how things are without being discouraging?
- In my experience ‘diverse talent’ in opera is co-opted into telling harmful stories about itself. How can we address the conflict between these different meanings of ‘representation’? One answer, potentially, is more representative artistic leadership, but without even broader change, individuals in positions of power may achieve little, or burn out (see above).
- People have been ‘reinventing opera’ and ‘making classical music open to everyone’ for longer than I’ve been alive. Broadly speaking, either it’s not working, or it is working, but not in the way claimed (or intended?).
- Overall, I think the connecting thread between these thoughts is that you have to deal with the ideology of what and who is already there, before/as well as inviting people in, or deciding it’s your place to invite people into. Potential audiences aren’t just put off Covent Garden by the ticket prices, but by (a portion of) the existing audience. Artists aren’t just excluded by an absence of role models but by the presence of racism and ableism. Representation as a goal — in terms of workforce or audience demographics — maybe isn’t enough.
Toria Banks is a director, acting teacher, dramaturg, writer, and producer. She is one of the core team of HERA.