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Learning for the Future

You may have noticed that last Sunday we didn't put out a blog post. If you were looking forward to it and keeping an eye out for it then we apologise. It was not a mistake, but a concerted effort on our part to keep our social media channels quiet so that more important voices could be heard.

Off the Ground Theatre fully stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. For too long the balance of the systems that we all live by have been tipped unfairly against BIPOC. We feel strongly that to stand on the sidelines now, or to oppose those trying to bring about a fairer system, is to side with the oppressors, and will prove to be the wrong side of history.

To stand in support of such a movement, and to make any such claims with any validity, however, it is crucial to evaluate the roles we have all played in propagating these unjust systems, and how we can learn from past mistakes to do better in the future.

For Off the Ground, identifying a past mistake landed us back in 2017. Our Around the World in Eighty Days tour was well-received by audiences across the UK and Ireland. With the story, we tried to poke satirically at British Imperialism, and the arrogance that brought in their conquests across the world.

For the last week or so, we have held discussions with cast members and management from that tour, to gain a broader perspective on how the show was put together, whether there were things we did wrong and how we can avoid making those mistakes again.

There are a number of issues that we identified with that particular year. At the time we were confident that what we were doing and putting on stage made sense, and that our audiences would understand that some of the jokes, for example, were made ironically, to paint a poorer picture of British colonialism. Looking back, we realise that if even one audience member left having not fully understood this, then the joke had failed and we could, and should, have done more.

We were also concerned with the diversity of the cast. Such a show calls for the story to navigate across every continent on the planet, and sadly this was not represented in our company at the time. Looking back with a view to learning, we realise starkly now that while the wonderful script we had can make for a wonderful show, we did not have the cast available to us to have the right to tackle it. This put otherwise talented actors in roles that made them feel uncomfortable. If we were ever to put Around the World in Eighty Days on again, it would only be with a suitably diverse cast, as it should be. As it must be.

It isn't 2017 any more. There is not a lot we can do retrospectively to fix the things we may have got wrong, or were getting wrong, at that time. For our part in failing to uphold standards of diversity, which the theatre industry needs to improve on enormously; for propagating negative stereotypes, which the world needs to erase; for not taking enough time to understand the impact of our own actions, we apologise.

All we can do in 2020, in the light of the current movement and renewed push for equality, is to re-evaluate, and to learn. It's all any of us can do.

There is nothing wrong with admitting you have gotten things wrong in the past, so long as you can own the mistakes and learn from them. This is something that we as a company have long told our students and staff, and it is a view that now, as a company, we can benefit from. We are a small part of our own much larger communities, of our own enormous world, but we firmly believe that if we, as people, as a collective, can normalise learning from past mistakes, then eventually the whole world will be a nicer, fairer place to live. OTG are using the time available to us now to actively educate ourselves, to equip us better to execute our role in protecting and caring for those of all backgrounds in our company.

We are in discussions right now to look at how OTG can improve their diversity and outreach as we move into a future that must be fairer, more balanced, and less weighted against BIPOC. These conversations have already been exciting, eye-opening and a step in the right direction for the company. You can expect updates on some of these initiatives as they take on more concrete forms in the coming weeks and months.

The path to improvement is long, and we all have a good distance yet to travel. Keep learning, keep understanding, keep standing up for what is right, and eventually we will all see a better world.

Black Lives Matter.


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