Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

Conscious Casting (@CastConscious on Twitter)

Amy Clare Tasker - 14 January 2017




What can we do as individuals/independent artists to make sure our diverse society is represented on stage and screen?

Report by Amy Clare Tasker
with thanks to all who attended: Amy Golding, Jenny Sturt, Amy Draper, Kate Maravan, Alison Holder, Mariangela Veronesi, Annette Brook, Helen Matraves, Griffyn Gilligan, Mohammad Shaifulbahri (Shai), Becky Chapman, Zoe Waterman, Sara Dawood, Natasha Sutton-Williams, Clarissa Widya, Megan Luke, and Elise Davison

We began by acknowledging that the immediate impetus for this session was the yellowface debacle of the Print Room's production of In The Depths of Dead Love. Acknowledging that the Print Room are not the first and not the last company to be un-conscious in their casting of culturally specific characters, we didn't dwell on that production except to say that there is a Thunderclap related to the protest happening on Thursday, which can be found at @CastConscious on Twitter and here:
Details of the London protest can be found on this facebook event:

The bigger question we asked is: why does representation matter? What does it feel like to see yourself reflected onstage? What does it feel like to always have to imagine yourself in the shoes of a protagonist who is not like you? When theatre erases or neglects the experience of people of colour, women, trans people, deaf and disabled people, working class people, older people, or other marginalised groups, the members of those communities feel invisible, erased, not included as part of our collective humanity.

Amy is collecting answers to the question WHY DOES REPRESENTATION MATTER? I have put together a brief and simple survey on a google form:
Or please get in touch at or @AmyClareTasker on Twitter.

Here are a few unformulated notes from our wide-ranging discussion. We started with race-conscious casting, touched briefly on gender, class, and ended with a practical discussion on budgeting for access costs for deaf and disabled actors. There was a general agreement that these different kinds of diversity are all connected, and that the argument for fair representation is essentially the same across these intersections.

* Disney princesses - it is meaningful that they have diversified their female protagonists for young girls of colour.
* Subsidised theatres have a special responsibility to represent a diverse society.
* Casting Shakespeare is ‘a thing in itself’
* Casting new writing where the roles are not a specific ethnicity - the group agreed that there is an important opportunity there to cast actors of colour, and not necessary to change the role/script to reference the ethnicity of the actor.
* Rejecting the terms colour-blind or gender-blind. Casting should be conscious; audiences can see these identities on stage and they are meaningful.
* Questioning what individual playwrights can write - men writing women, white playwrights writing characters of colour, etc. Authenticity of representation is important, and requires research. Not being represented hurts, and being misrepresented also hurts.
* Related to above: Lena Dunham's defense of GIRLS being an all-white TV show was that she writes from her experience and didn't feel she had the right voice to write characters of colour.
* ‘Anyone can write anything/ anyone can play anything’ - artists are imaginative and empathetic enough to cross the boundaries of identity that separate different communities.
*Consideration of ethics of whether anyone SHOULD write/play anything, ie white actors playing characters of colour, given the relative scarcity of roles for actors of colour.
* Counterargument: If the people making large-scale mainstream theatre are mostly white straight able-bodied men, do we really want to say that they should only make work about themselves?
* What can we do from where we are? Writers can specify diverse casting requirements to directors/producers, directors can make the effort to get to know diverse actors, actors can turn down a role if they're being asked to participate in yellowface, for example.
* Universal themes: these apply to everyone and therefore everyone should be represented onstage. An all-white cast is NOT universal.
* Current pathways into the industry do not encourage diversity. This is a complex issue with solutions needed on many fronts.
* Quotas - companies choosing targets for areas they want to improve. Should the goal be to match the demographic of the area (ie, 20% local population is Black, therefore 20% plays by Black writers)? Quotas for actors, writers, directors, backstage, administrators, & TRAINING PROGRAMMES. For example, the National Theatre and RSC use annual quotas for staffing ‘across the board.’
* How to make sure quotas are not just box-ticking? For example BBC's rule that there must be at lease one woman on panel shows means there is now EXACTLY ONE woman on each panel show.
* Training - the cost does not help them recruit diverse students. At RADA, it's £90 just to audition.
* Visibility - how would someone decide to train as an actor if they never see anyone like them on stage?
* Cardiff-based theatre makers spoke about bringing in actors from outside the region when they need someone with a specific identity.
* Funding: making a creative case for diversity in NPO applications.
* Acknowledging diversity within ‘diversity’ - are we always choosing the ‘easy picks’? (This is a really big idea that we didn't fully unpack… thoughts welcome in the comments!)
* Reference for successful performances with deaf and disabled actors: Ramps on the Moon, touring circuit. Small adjustments to day-to-day systems that make a huge difference, for example staff walking around with placards that say ‘the next act is about to begin’ instead of ringing a bell at the interval.
* DIVERSE AUDIENCES: ‘You put a range of people onstage and people suddenly go: oh, this might be for me.’ The audience and atmosphere changes.
* Budgeting for access. £2-3K per week for BSL interpreter. ACE does not require producers to match access funds.
* Different points of the process for conscious consideration of casting needs/access costs. If you don't think about access at the budget/ACE app stage, it limits your casting choices. You can't afford a BSL interpreter if you don't budget for them.
* Reference for further reading: Christine Ann Smith (formerly of Tamasha Theatre) has written a PhD on cultural identity.
* See also: many other sessions at D&D to do with representation and visibility. Colonisation, Working Class, Queer Theatre… hopefully you'll find the others by the tags.

Thanks again to all who participated today. Please feel free to add further thoughts in the comments!





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