New design initiative created to support inequality in the theatre industry by James Haddrell

Earlier this month, applications opened for an exciting new theatre initiative, seeking to support anyone from the global majority who is from a socially and economically challenging background who wants to pursue a career in theatre design.

The Genesis Theatre Design Programme is a free two-year part-time course which will train and support six designers with the aim of improving global majority representation among theatre designers, expanding the pipeline of talent and opening more career opportunities.

The initiative boasts an enviable list of partners, including the Mulberry UTC Creative Industry Training College, the National Theatre, the School of Historical Dress and Brixton House.

Along with Brixton House director Gbolahan Obisesan and Olivier Award winning designer ULTZ, Black British Theatre Award-winning designer Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey is one of the course leaders.

Designer on the current Unicorn Theatre production of Anansi, and forthcoming shows at Theatre Royal Stratford East and the National Theatre, her route into theatre was multi-disciplined.

“I started working in carnival arts” she said.

“Then I trained in scenic arts and prop-making at Rose Bruford, and then I started working as an assistant to theatre designers.”

However, her success should not be seen as evidence of the accessibility of a theatre design career and the course creators have collectively identified the challenges facing many other aspiring designers in achieving a similar level of success, or even accessing the industry in the first place.

“When I was younger I worked at various places where there were multiple generations of people at work who looked like me, so as a young person I could see those were jobs that I could do” she said.

“But if you don’t see anyone who looks like you, who has any of the same cultural references as you, who comes from the same place as you, then you don’t feel that place is necessarily for you. Theatre is also slightly aloof. You can have the ambition to access theatre, but if you don’t have connections or know somebody who is already in it, the industry can be quite inaccessible.”

For that reason, access to the course is not based on academic qualifications, or even experience or understanding of the sector, and applicants are encouraged to apply from a range of starting positions.

“The course is for anyone over 18, with no upper age limit. Applicants may have aligned skills or experience from other artistic fields like interior design, events, carnival, create their own projects in their own time, watch live performance and imagine how they’d create them or have other creative routes or ways of expression.

“Those are the people we’d love to hear from” she said.

The course will include tutorials with world-class designers and directors, lectures and research projects with staging and costume experts, design projects with global majority directors and artists, practical training with production and technical staff, placements as assistants to designers, and experience in theatres.

It is being described as a new iteration of the renowned Motley Theatre Design Course, which was founded at Sadler’s Wells in 1966 and ran to 2010, using the same model of experience-based learning rather than accredited assessment.

Clearly there is an inequality in the industry, and Greenaway-Bailey is passionate about fixing that, but can six people make a difference?

She said: “I come at it from the standpoint of ‘where else do we start?’ We are trying to work with and trying to address a thing that we all know within the industry and we can all see, and this is us trying to make a forward movement, trying to take a positive step forward in making a thing happen that we can all see needs to happen.”

Anyone interested in finding out more should visit


Picture: Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey Picture: Michael Wharley

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