Male-dominated theatre is elitist, says producer

Ahead of new play, producer warns that more working class stories need to be told

Friday, 10th June — By Anna Lamche

Old Red Lion DSC00069

Natalie Ekberg and Kaara Benstead outside the Old Red Lion pub theatre

“SO many stories are not being told,” a producer championing the representation of working class people in theatre has warned, as she prepares for her play to open next week.

Actor and producer Kaara Benstead grew up in Essex Road, spending her childhood at Anna Scher drama school.

“It’s the best training I could have had. And it gives a voice for working class people – most places you try to do acting classes, they are just too expensive,” Ms Benstead said.

Today, Ms Benstead works as an actor and is currently producing her first play, Diversifications, which will open at the Old Red Lion pub theatre next Tuesday.

Ms Benstead, who is also acting in Diversifications, took the opportunity to produce the play because she believes “there aren’t enough working class females in the theatre industry. Coming from this area [of Islington] – that was a massive drive,” she said.

The industry is “very elitist”, Ms Benstead said. “I want to be part of the change: there’s a lot of us who have got stories to tell, and want to be part of stories, whether that’s producing or directing.”

Ultimately what’s important is “to give good people a chance”, Ms Benstead said.

She said the situation is particularly dire backstage. “Women behind the scenes in theatre are really, really underrepresented. It’s a very male-dominated world. So many stories are not being told,” she warned.

Ms Benstead said she would like to see more working class people in the audience of fringe theatre shows too.

“If you’re from a working class background, going to fringe theatre is not something you really do. And yet Upper Street is full of fringe theatre – there is something that’s going wrong.”

Ms Benstead, who went to five schools before being “permanently excluded”, and only came back to acting after having children, hopes her story will give struggling young people hope. She said she was always “creative” rather than “academic” at school. “I used to love writing, and drama. I just knew I didn’t want to be stuck in a normal job,” she said.

“I’d like to show kids from my area, even if you don’t get on at school there are other paths,” she said.

Diversifications is a play about three women who must evaluate what they want from their lives, negotiating the fine line between freedom, motherhood and a career. Writer Natalie Ekberg says the play was inspired by a survey that found “80 per cent of women are unhappy in their lives”.

“I think what is typical for us women is that we always put other people before us,” Ms Ekberg said. “For the women [in the play], they are all at a moment where it just clicks. They realise: what are we waiting for? It’s the realisation that maybe they don’t have much time.”

Both Ms Ekberg and Ms Benstead left their corporate jobs to pursue a career in the performing arts.

Producer Ms Benstead said: “It shouldn’t take your health being on the line to re-evaluate stuff.

“I would like to empower women to follow their dreams – I’ve done it myself, [and] Natalie’s done it.”

Related Articles