Devoted and Disgruntled 9

Color / Gender Blind Casting

Kevin Shen - 25 January 2014




We had a session to explore Color and Gender blind casting - what is it and how does it work?

We discussed various things, and this will just recap some of the things we discussed, ending with a few takeaways, hopefully.

Discussion initiated with a mention of a new all-female production of Faustus and the ease of changing pronouns. This begged, the question, is that necessary? Why can men play women in Shakespeare, but not vice versa? It was suggested that the way Shakespeare is written in some cases, an all-female cast isn't funny in the same way an all-male cast would be. Also, because language isn't gender blind, switching language is necessary. Interesting.

We discussed Color Blind casting and its role as positive discrimination. How does it come about? In order to have integrated casting, generally the director has to have the intention of casting non-traditionally. Due to the limited amount of people you audition, you have to make a conscious decision about who you audition. If you audition five minorities and five white people, and end up picking a white person, does that count as color blind casting? We have to think deeper than that and realize that the minorities and white actors probably have quite a disparity in terms of experience. It seems that there needs to be an active decision to cast non-traditionally if it's going to happen.

This brings us to the terminology of “blind” casting. We think we should disregard this and refer to roles as either non-traditionally cast or gender/race-flipped. Blind casting leads to the confusion above and potentially has the wrong connotations. We will never be “blind” to race - it will always be mentioned if it's happening, so it seems silly to call it “blind.” Ideally we get to a point where a performance is so compelling that race and gender doesn't matter, but alternatively, we can actively use the race or gender decisions for the artistic intention of the show.

We talked a bit about quotas - discussing how positive discrimination was necessary when it first started, and should be reinstated. The power that SAG had in the US affected change, and this might be what we try to do. We also discussed the cycles of people in power, and how the people at the top of the tree are usually most conservative - however, when they've stuck their neck out with exciting casting, they cycle out eventually, and it never becomes the norm to cast non-traditionally or include more females/minorities.

We do want to stay positive and ultimately change influencers. We do want people who have broken the glass ceilings - powerful women and minorities - to reach out help others, which we find is not done enough.

Much of it is driven to education and norms. Period drama is such a big industry in the UK, and people are conditioned to see it as such. However, things like having an Indian MP back in the day was never taught and isn't ever covered. It's education showing the true multiculturalism that needs to happen.

We also talked about how agents can be gatekeepers. We talked about the importance of having minorities and females in roles in the grassroots and theatre outside of London so people can see it, especially youths, but oftentimes agents won't let their minority clients do these things.

We talked about equality law - from a legal perspective that in order to hire by race, there needs to be an occupational requirement for it. However, given the existence of non-traditional casting, legally you can never say that there is a requirement. However, we also discussed how the BBC and on-screen and onstage work is exempt from this.

Ultimately, we have to strive towards excellence. When making art there has to be an aesthetic or artistic reason for integrated casting and not just a political reason, as we don't want to give non-traditional casting a ‘bad name.’

We had a big discussion about race vs indigenous casting. Actors were adamant that we can research and play roles that we are perhaps not ‘indigenous’ for. Potentially this is more of an issue for minorities (we need a Chinese person only, but a white person can play any white person).

We talked about the lack of opportunity for minorities in major roles, and thus the fringe needs to embrace non-traditional casting to create a pool of talent that has the opportunity to learn and grow.

We talked about quite a few studies - Equity looked at a study by FIA (international federaation of actors) and found terrifying gender numbers. 74% audience female, but 7:1 ratio in media favoring men. We talked a lot about French initiatives, how they've formed a group for gender parity, spread statistics, and ultimately asked theatres to have an ‘equality’ season where their work of writers and directors reflects the community - at least 45%. There are interesting postulates as to the gender inequality - in some cases it is the glass ceiling, but in others it may be the women's expectations or not asking for enough.

We believe there should be monitoring forms for auditions and jobs, and with statistics we can name and shame institutions. There should be pressure to the Arts Council to release that information.

Public funding should mean the work reflects the levels of society. Commonwealth has funding - can we tap that? Funding for festivals might be a way to grow opportunity for women and minorities, but we want to make sure things are mainstream and not pigeon holed.

We do believe legislation is the way to go. in Sweden a law was passed to guarantee more women in certain positions. When there were issues with women not having enough experiences, then they created classes to train them. We need to influence the groups. There's a good article in the Guardian about various theatre statistics.

GAP Salon is a great opportunity to talk about gender and performance. We need places to train and give opportunities to women and minorities, a la in France.

How do we not be shrill talking about our points? Be positive, don't complain but show that you're helping them. Use actions over words if necessary.

What can we take away?

Let's change the terminology a bit - the “blind” terminology seems a bit antiquated. To say “we don't see race” seems kind of racist, because everyone does. We like the terms non-traditional, integrated, or flipped casting potentially.

We also don't think we should be referring to women and minorities as ‘underrepresented,’ but rather refer to white men as ‘overrepresented.’

Equity initiatives will hopefully tackle monitoring statistics, and we need to pressure Arts Council for this to be done.

Check out the Gap Salon and join that.




Daniel Copeland

25 January 2014

It's longshot I know, but does anyone have details of this exemption from Equality Law that the BBC and stage companies say they have ?
Robert Wells

28 January 2014

It is my understanding that when casting a play you are covered by “Occupational Requirement”. You have the right as an employer to say that this role for a female character should be played by a female actor. Or that the model for a photoshoot needs to be a white 6'2" male.

Equally, you could say that due to your directorial vision your production of Hamlet will be entirely populated by middle-aged Chinese women.

That's not to say that you should do that, but if you choose to you're not breaking the law.

There's some guidelines here, but they don't specifically mention theatre:

I can't find any precedent online, but the last time I did equality training this was specifically brought up and this was the current interpretation of the Equality Act 2010.
Daniel Copeland

30 January 2014

Thanks a million for replying Robert I didn't think anyone would.

The thing is it is interpretation not the law itself.

For example test case law suggests you can't run a clothing shop for women and claim that men can't work there because it is an occupational requirement, because there have been test cases.

In response to your reply I'd ask if you can't say for example “this is a mexican restaurant and we only thus we are only employing mexican people or at least south american people to work here because that is our vision for the world food experience we want to create” how is it okay to do something similar in theatre ?

I'm just asking, and of course I realise the 2010 Equality Act is probably flouted in all manner of employment situations, but as a basic thing I sort of think it's important we know what the Law is.

Daniel Copeland

2 February 2014

Well, I put that badly.

What I wanted to say is that while within the law you could justify an all black Julius Caesar or an all female one, because you would be addressing under representation, it would hard to justify an all white production given that alternative castings are part the culture now, and even historical accuracy is beginning to look like a feeble excuse.

Amy Clare Tasker

25 January 2014

Thanks for a great discussion today! Here's the link to the GAP Salon website:

we're on Twitter: @GAPsalon

there is a facebook group where we share links and organise meetings at Request to join (this is how we keep the space free of trolls and spambots), and I'll approve your membership asap.
Amy Clare Tasker

25 January 2014

Oh, and just wanted clarify the comment about all-male Shakespeare comedies being funnier. My understanding of that point was that plenty of the comedies are deeply problematic, and it's much easier to laugh at, say, Kate and Petruchio beating each other up if they are both played by men. When Kate is played by a woman, it can be scary, and sanction/normalise gender violence.

Not that the play doesn't do that regardless, because the text is the text. But I think that was the point being made, rather than all male Shakespeare is funnier than all-female Shakespeare.

Thanks for these notes, Kevin! I'm amazed how much you captured of our lightning-fast conversation!
Daniel Copeland

30 January 2014

They were baptised and buried in parishes across the country, and even attended queens at court. So why, asks Onyeka, do we continue to airbrush black Africans out of Tudor England?


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