Wealthy individuals from the arts world should fund scholarships to boost diversity in drama schools, Andrew Lloyd Webber has said.
The theatre impresario said education is key to bringing talent from diverse backgrounds to the stage, but “education costs money”.
Writing in the foreword to a report from his foundation into drama school diversity, he said that while the last five years have brought some improvement, it is “not nearly enough”.
Lord Lloyd-Webber said: “There’s been much wringing of hands and concern that more must urgently be done.”
And calling for more direct investment in scholarships from the wealthy, he said: “I implore anyone who really cares about diversity in theatre to consider funding a scholarship. The Foundation will do all the boring administration for you.
“It will be in your name, not mine. You can be involved as much or as little as you want in choosing the candidates.
“My apologies to all those who are doing great work in making the profession we love fit for our time, but to those who can afford it and perhaps aren’t, it’s time for a little less conversation, a little more action, please.”
The Centre Stage 2021 report, a follow-up to a 2016 report that declared theatre was “hideously white”, questioned 15 drama schools and found some improvement.
The schools have seen the ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic diversity of their student intake increase from 14% in 2016 to 21.5% in the 2019/20 academic year, according to the report.
It found 57% of drama schools have “reviewed and enhanced their access and outreach participation teams” since 2016 and 60% of drama schools have appointed diverse candidates into management and academic roles.
However, it warned the pandemic posed the biggest threat to the sustainability of the outreach and sustainability programmes.
The report found three central recommendations from the Centre Stage 2016 report have led to improvements.
They are waiving fees for applicants from the poorest backgrounds, regional auditions to reduce attendance costs and investment in partnerships with state schools to “challenge perceptions about inclusivity in the theatre”.
Among the report’s findings were five key conclusions.
They include that efforts to “attract talent from the broadest possible pool have reaped rewards” and every school surveyed reported an improvement in the number of people of colour attending their courses.
And, the report said, diversity at senior management level is “the most important catalyst for change”.
Joy at some of the improvements of the last five years is tempered by the fact that “there remains a long way to go”, according to the report, which added: “Diversity in some student cohorts is in single percentage figures.”
Actor Idris Elba contributed to the report and endorsed Lord Lloyd-Webber’s belief in the importance of bursaries and scholarships.
The Luther star received a £1,500 Prince’s Trust grant to study at the National Youth Music Theatre.
He said: “They are beacons. They are prizes. They symbolise the opportunity to go for something. They are a shiny piece of fruit on the tree.”
He added: “It is the responsibility of people who want change to force change.”