The amazing Sharon Clarke MBE, theatre and TV actress and singer, tells a story of her own!

Sharon Clarke

Sharon Clarke’s career

Sharon Clarke is a famous British theatre and television actress and singer. Sharon Clarke has performed in very high-profile West End shows including Guys and Dolls in 1996 where she played the character of General Cartwright at the National Theatre and Miss Sherman in Fame in 1999 which became so popular it became international, touring Sweden and other countries.

Sharon also performed as part of the original cast in We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre, starring as the Killer Queen. For her outstanding performances in the role, she was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical.

Sharon received incredible praise for her performances with the BBC London review of We Will Rock You commenting:

This witless, overblown disaster has just one redeeming feature: the blazing talent of Sharon D. Clarke as the Killer Queen.”

Prior to her stellar theatre work, Sharon Clarke is best known for her role as post-operative care consultant, Lola Griffin, in BBC’s Holby City for which she won the best female performance award at the Screen Nation Film and TV awards in 2007. Other notable television credits include The Bill, Between the Lines, Waking the Dead, EastEnders and The Singing Detective.

Sharon was awarded an MBE in The Queen’s New Years’ Honours List for Services to Drama back in 2017.

Sharon Clarke growing up and her message to today’s young people

Sharon Clarke reflects on the early part of her childhood and what built her love for acting and singing, recollecting:

Seeing West Side Story as a kid was massive for me. It was the first full-blown musical I’d seen featuring people of colour and it made me think, I could do that.

Like Aratrust, especially given the Covid-19 pandemic, Sharon is sympathetic to the challenges that our young people face in today’s society adding that the sharing of knowledge and ideas was more common among her peers growing up:

I went to a very diverse comprehensive school and everyone would be sharing, learning from each other. But today you have the whole postcode war thing going on. There are disfranchised kids across the board: not just black and Muslim kids but white kids too.

Aratrust shares Sharon’s feeling of optimism for our young people and the still plentiful opportunities to grab: “I want to tell people that, as long as you are willing to work hard, be creative and have an open mind, then your dreams will happen. There are always options. Keep striving.”

The power of the Black Lives Matter movement and inadequate representation in the arts

Aratrust supports Sharon Clarke talking openly about Black British history and its importance in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd:

“I can’t speak about it without getting emotional. All this talk about how it has opened people’s eyes – I find it hard because he is another black man in a long line of black men, women, children, to have died over the last year, the last 10 years, the last 100 years. It’s great that we seem to be at a turning point and that his death has been a catalyst for some to stand up and say I have got to do something. But it’s not new. It’s old news.”

There are times you have the strength to call it out, and there are times you think …………..

Sharon has been a strong advocate for greater inclusivity within the arts and entertainment industry following her own experiences of racism and micro aggressions. Sharon added that industry professionals, directors, fellow actors, have said “some completely foolish things to me about skin, about hair. You can’t just touch my hair, and please don’t ask me if I wash it. There are the times you have the strength to call it out, and there are times you think that if you say something you will end up killing someone”.

Aratrust, like Sharon, believes that the Black Lives Matter movement has opened a dialogue in the industry and that if we want things to change, we must work together. She added:

“The BBC is talking to black performers. There are surveys about hair and makeup. It has allowed black and brown people to not feel like the only person on the set floor. And at the end of the day, we can’t do it alone. We have to have the allies to cleave to and to walk beside.”

Positive steps to improve representation in the theatre

Whilst there is much work to do to improve representation and diversity in the theatre beyond the show of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, Aratrust welcomes the positive steps and initiatives taken by groups like the English Touring Theatre (ETT). ETT states: “We recognise there is systemic racism in our industry, that we as an organisation and individuals haven’t done enough to fight against it, and that going forward our priority is to make change happen”.

  • ETT’s action plan includes:
    • Publishing the workforce data outlining ethnic diversity across roles.
    • Making the culture within ETT more open and inclusive to retain diverse talent and carve clear pathways to senior roles.
    • Commissioning more Black artists. While the percentage of Black actors has improved, “there is a long way to go to balance a history that has been overwhelmingly white”.
    • Touring only to venues willing to sign-up to a shared action plan for audience development and inclusive ticketing initiatives that have equality and representation at their core.
    • Providing all ETT and tour staff with anti-bias and anti-racism training, and strongly encouraging all venues they visit to do the same.
    • Providing bespoke professional support throughout rehearsals and whilst on tour to black actors and artists when they are working on productions that require them to draw on lived experiences of racism and trauma.

Aratrust reaffirms Sharon Clarke’s message to young people to work hard, be creative and keep striving. We support Black workers building alliances to challenge racism in the workplace and work for CHANGE.