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Spotlight on: Diverse City – change through the arts

22 February 2022

Many thanks to Diverse City for writing this guest post about their work in increasing and supporting diversity in the performing arts. If you want to read more about diverse arts, culture, poetry, theatre, music and more please sign up to our newsletter.

Diverse City is a performing arts charity based in Dorset with a mission: to make the arts fairer and more representative for artists, audiences, and everyone else too. As a population, we don’t all look, speak or think the same, but looking at how that population is represented on our stages, you would have no idea! We believe that the people who create and perform should represent the whole population as it actually is.

In order to change things, we don’t just talk the talk. Diverse City holds a production company in partnership with leading circus company Cirque Bijou – Extraordinary Bodies. This integrated company features the work of disabled and non-disabled writers, directors, producers and performers equally, and creates bold, thought provoking work that we tour all over the UK. We co-produce work with other companies, and in doing so embed our practices in them, so that when they go on to other work, they carry change with them like a positive ripple moving through the arts. We employ dozens of freelancers every year too – producers, backstage teams, performers – and each one of them is both empowered to expect fair treatment and equal opportunity, and also learns new theories of practice to carry into their next job. Every one of them becomes an ambassador for change, and it’s incredible to see them go on from their work with us and carry our ideas into new places.

Right now, the company is in one of our busiest ever periods. Earlier this year we took a new show, Human, on the road. This tender, light and beautiful piece explored universal human experiences from the perspectives of disabled and non-disabled people alike and featured beautiful aerial circus work, and original music. We moved straight onto Delicate (now on tour), a lyrical, movement based examination of what it means to be perceived as fragile. Coming up in the new year is Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror, an incredible new musical that looks at persecution of disabled people in 1930s Europe and the role circuses took in protecting them.

All three of these shows are part of a large-scale, Arts Council funded project: Touring Diverse Led Circus where we are aiming to shift both public perception and industry standards of what can be achieved in circus. We like to be ambitious, and we’re aiming for nothing less than a real change in understanding.

We’re aiming to do this through our partnerships withThe Fire Station, Sunderland, The Civic, Barnsley, Plymouth Theatre Royal, Brighton Dome, The Lowry, Salford, Lighthouse, Poole and Brixton House, all of whom have committed to staging our shows over the next three years. We’re trying to ensure that wherever you’re reading this from, you might be able to see some of our work. 

We also accompany all our work with a robust community programme. Connecting Communities is our three year programme of work with diverse communities local to the venues we are touring our artistic programme to. Our creative teams have connected with and are supporting community groups to develop their own creative responses to the work we’re touring. As we return to the same venues over several years with a variety of shows as part of our Touring Diverse Led Circus programme, we build ever stronger relationships with the communities in those locations.

Central to this work, is our Unexpected Leaders programme, through which we identify potential in individuals, coach them to expand their skillset, help them achieve their creative goals, and connect them with opportunities to lead in their local area. The Unexpected Leaders already onboard are providing vital leadership in the design and delivery of the evaluation for Extraordinary Bodies’ shows. 

Our current cohort of leaders are also well underway with work on their own creative projects, and we hope to provide a platform for them to showcase their work over the next couple of years. We aim to leave behind a network of diverse leaders to advocate for their communities and work alongside their local theatres. If you’re interested in finding out more about the company’s mission, where you can see our work, or signing up for our newsletter, you can do it all at