The International Black Theatre and Film Directory is now live! Launched earlier this year, it’s free for Black performers and behind-the-scenes creatives to join and be found by the global theatre and film industry. Founded by Omar F Okai and Solange Urdang, and developed by Vanessa Fisher, the directory is giving visibility to the myriad of Black theatre and film talent globally, enhancing representation, recognition and opportunity. It’s a unique and much needed platform that’s already making a positive impact in the performing arts industry internationally.
The directory is the next step for co-founders Solange and Omar to further their mission to improve diversity in the industry, in addition to their annual Black British Theatre Awards. Karina H Maynard spoke with Solange about the launch of the directory and current climate for Black theatre and film talent.
Karina: The first televised Black British Theatre Awards on Sky Arts was one of the most talked about theatre moments in 2020. What feedback have you received about the impact the awards are having on the visibility of Black performers and creatives?
Solange: It’s certainly inspiring the next generation and building the Black performing arts industry profile, and therefore the understanding of the UK’s rich Black historical culture within theatre as well as awareness of the current climate and its lack of inclusivity. We have been thanked and encouraged to carry on our good work, and to ensure these Awards continue no matter what.
Karina: What inspired you to launch The Black Theatre and Film Directory?
Solange: We had a Black Theatre Recognition list formulated by Vanessa Fisher in 2019 which listed all the Black performers who had appeared in the West End over the year of nominations. This was a progression of the list and was designed in order to not only have a functional use, but to have a positive impact.
Karina: As founders of the BBTAs which covers theatre in Britain, why was it important for the directory to be international and include both film and theatre?
Solange: Many performers and creatives work both in theatre and film, so it widens the opportunities for members in both fields.Performers and creatives are international, they can work anywhere in the world and therefore a global directory is more suitable and will attract more organisations. It’s also important that there is a presence worldwide and to help build the global community.
Karina: I think that creating a platform that is not only open and inclusive for all performers, but also organisations and behind-the-scenes talent is very progressive…
Solange: It is important for the profiles to be as inclusive as possible, as performers and creatives are naturally versatile. Organisations can create a profile, and they can search
for talent, which not only helps to improve their visibility in the industry, but makes it easy to source Black creative talent for their own projects. Omar and I are passionate about helping to give more visibility to those on and off stage or screen.
Karina: How has last year’s Black Lives Matter activism positively impacted Black performers, organisations and creatives?
Solange: I think, in the last year, through people across the world speaking out against racism and challenging misinformation, conversations have been opened. I also think the recasting of shows will reflect this when theatre returns. The BBTAs feel it’s important to follow this story, support and amplify black voices. I think there is a long way to go, but these events have had a positive impact, and we can’t afford to step back at this crucial time of change.
Karina: How does the Black Theatre and Film Directory help decision-makers to improve representation when casting roles and hiring creative production teams for theatre and film?
Solange: The directory shows the diversity of Black talent out there, in all aspects of theatre and filmmaking, and therefore, takes away any excuse not to be inclusive. It’s very important that those who are in the position to make hiring decisions can make conscious choices, rather than revert to the usual patterns of employing from a small pool of established players or using the usual circles they hire from.
Karina: As CEO of Link Talent agency and the Urdang Academy, which is the UK’s most diverse performing arts conservertoire, how will the directory improve opportunities for Black performing arts students who are progressing into the professional sphere?
Solange: For me especially, it’s very important. Getting an agent in the industry is an important move for any graduate and being part of this directory can help Black students be seen as well as see their role models and what can be achieved. Other performing arts colleges need to ensure they are training a diversity of Black talent and the industry needs to reflect this.
Karina: We are now a year into the global pandemic, what are the most pressing needs for Black performers and creatives?
Solange: To galvanize and be ready to represent!
Karina: How will Black talent benefit from a profile in the Directory?
Solange: As we grow, members will become more visible. We plan to narrate and highlight stories from the directory members in order to engage employers and inspire talent to use it as a critical resource.
Karina: What is your vision for the Directory? What do you want to achieve over the next year?
Solange: We want to grow member numbers and to enhance careers even more. We will attract more casting directors and encourage more employers to use this resource, and again, to make change!
All Black creatives, performers and independent companies can create a free profile, detailing skills, experience and interests within the theatre and film industries. Everyone from agents, casting agents, lighting, set and costume designers, directors, choreographers, educators, to performers can sign up at: www.theblacktheatreandfilmdirectory.com
*Black performers and creatives include anyone that is of direct or descendent African heritage.
Interview by Karina H Maynard
Karina H Maynard is a curator, producer, educator and journalist. She is the founder of Muntu Arts, an organisation that provides consultancy and training to improve representation in the arts, culture and education. Karina curates cultural programmes that decolonise cultural history and engage new audiences. She is an Executive Director and Board Member at the Urdang Academy. She produces radio, TV and filmed projects that spotlight creative visionaries and contextualise transformative cultural movements.
Follow on Instagram and Twitter @karinahmaynard
Solange and Omar’s professional titles
Omar F. Okai
Co-Director/Founder and Creative Director of Black British Theatre Awards and The Black Theatre and Film Directory
Resident Director for Disney’s upcoming production of Bednobs and Broomsticks
Co-Founder/Director of The Black British Theatre Awards and The Black Theatre and Film Directory
CEO of The Urdang Academy and Urdang International
Owner of Link Talent
Read this interview in the Summer print edition of ALT A REVIEW pick up at your local Sainsburys.