Discussion Summary
Thoughts arose regarding the audience wanting to see something elevated from the norm, elevated from societies norms, that it is not the industry’s fault for providing this. The counterargument to this was that the elevated aspect that audiences wish to see is talent and skill, rather than a sense of ‘societal perfection’. It was discussed that some reviewers and directors are responsible for refusing to participate in a production if a cast is not as diverse as possible. It was suggested that we have had some wins (we no longer have productions with blackface) but posed the question ‘are we entering an era of tokenism’?
An opinion was shared that, where specific characteristics are present in the text which describe a character, this should be adhered to with authenticity, and where no specificity is given, this should be an opportunity to think outside the traditional casting to give the audience a new interpretation of the character. When the reason for characters to be in a story relies on a protected characteristic, we have a responsibility to portray that effectively. Another opinion was shared that currently it seems like actors with protected characteristics, or those outside the norm, are somewhat confined to specific casting. Frustrations were shared that casting is a small pool, that a selection of people are often seen for a wide cross section of parts, because it’s easy. A thought was raised at how diversity casting operates in radio, which would be an interesting thing to research.
The ‘Cast It Now’ campaign was mentioned, promoting regional auditions and the opinion is that this is doing some good work, along with self-tapes creating more access, but that it didn’t go as far as possible, given the minimum requirements placed on theatres. There’s a preconception still that London is where the jobs are, and that people do not have the opportunity to work locally. The need for a pathway, from school to training to work, is clear, and casting is still a barrier for this.
Conversations then moved to pre-offer preparation, including expanding the definition of additional support requirements to include those with children and for this to come from the casting directors themselves, so actors don’t feel worried to disclose this. We also discussed having actors with access riders and lived experience having to use their creative time and energy to discuss this again in the room, or even being forced to be a spokesperson / facilitator in the room, and how this dilutes the experience for said actor. One can be an advocate in a room without being expected to do that work for the whole
company, and for it not to fall disproportionately on one person. It was interesting to discuss what different actors are now disclosing to casting directors, from a place of not wanting to be misrepresented or misconstrued, and ultimately to ‘miss out’ on roles due to the information shared. Ultimately, casting should be built around what makes you you, and what you can authentically contribute to the space, and sometimes casting can feel inauthentic, pandering to audiences and predictable.
Suggested Actions
- To champion those who are setting best practice and holding them as the standard (SOLT, ITC etc), especially regarding syllabus work, and to hold certain parts and even songs as inappropriate for certain individuals to sing (the example used was Miss Saigon).
- Setting expectations with creatives team that protected characteristic should be championed, and to connect with communities to work with them.
- Transparency is key for companies to put things in place for success and to build the trust between actors and casting directors e.g. casting directors taking the initiative to start these conversations, and show actors that they are creating safe spaces and that additional support is not a hindrance nor a help, but fact.
- Bespoke conversations around how each person can do their best work prior to the job offer
- A suggestion was made that members of casting networks should be invited to a D&D
It was a shame that wider discussions around the type of casts we would like to see, whether theatre truly is representative of society at large, and what we can do to champion protected characteristics in roles where previously they have been unseen. However, this is an ongoing nuanced discussion, and one I am excited to continue to have.