Diversity in theaters – there is still a long way to go

A news story by Katja Pelic

Theater has always been a means of addressing social problems. Nevertheless, a large part of this same society is still excluded today.

The theater scene in Amsterdam has often been reserved for typically Dutch middle class in the past. According to a report produced by the LA group, Leisure and Arts Consulting between 1997 and 2009 only three percent of Amsterdam’s funding budget has been allocated to culturally diverse art groups. To put this into perspective: In Amsterdam more than half of the registered people have a foreign background coming from 178 different nationalities.

The acting scene has changed a lot over the past few years. Shehab Aamer (33), former actor and theater lecturer in Amsterdam, has experienced a lot of difficulties in his career in theatrics. He started acting when he was 15 years old but decided to quit after three years due to the parts he was given. “They were only casting me for roles like criminals because of my Egyptian background.” However, he states that the theater is way more open and diverse than the movie scene and that a lot has changed in the past few years.

Garcelle Komproe (20) has had similar experiences. She comes from a background of actors and directors and has been studying production and stage management since the beginning of September. Even though she noticed the positive changes towards diversity, she still feels like there is a long way to go, especially behind the cameras. “On stage you will see a lot of diversity, but behind the scenes, it’s still really white. Most producers are male, white and Dutch. I’m the only black person.”

Nevertheless, there are many theaters and cultural centers offering diverse plays that many people can relate to. Rokhaya Seck works as a program maker and moderator for De Balie, a debate center in Amsterdam. Not only do they offer diverse plays sometimes but also a lot of different events where people come together to discuss societal topics. “Sometimes it feels like I’m organizing networking events. I organized an event for young people grieving. It was really nice to see how they could relate to each other and share their pain. That is what drives me.” Next month the topic is black recognition, so there will be a lot of different events surrounding African art and culture. Part of that is a festival called Afrovibes.

The acting scene is still not representative of the population, but a lot has changed in the past few years. As Aamer points out: “Theater gives us power und brings us together. It gives us the possibility to talk about issues that we would normally feel uncomfortable talking about.”