I took part in an amazing workshop the other day with a top British theatre director who had a chat with us all about equality in the industry. I have read many, many articles on this and realised that it was something I hadn’t actually spoken about in great detail.
There are a variety of different paths you can go down when talking about equality: gender, race, age, disability, culture, religion etc, the list really does go on. Living in the year 2018, I ask myself, why is there still an issue with equality in the industry?
When it comes to gender equality, it is prominent that men still dominate the big roles in the performance industry. I do believe that there are a lot more roles available for men out there, than there are for women. However, there has been a vast increase more recently of females gaining power. There are roles out there emerging for women, written by women and directed by women, which is amazing! A great example of some brilliant female roles on the TV currently are Vera who is played by the wonderful Brenda Blethyn which is based on the novels by Ann Cleeves (fabulously, another woman!) and Doctor Foster who is portrayed by the flawless Suranne Jones. These roles are fantastic for women as they show diverse and challenging characters, which is what women need in the industry. There are so many rubbish roles that don’t give women any opportunity to show what they can really do.
In my personal opinion, there seems to be slightly more roles available for women in TV than there are in theatre. Theatre is also a very difficult place because not only are there less roles available for women, but there are less roles available for women of a particular age group – which undoubtedly is very worrying.
I do feel that it is so very difficult for women over 40 in particular to find diverse and available ranges of roles to play in the theatre. There are tonnes of castings out there who are looking for the role of a “mother”. How many mother roles can one woman play without becoming bored and unchallenged? Where are all the gritty and challenging roles for these skilled and talented women to play?
Thank goodness we have so many new writers emerging from the folds and stepping forward to create these opportunities. It would be great to see fantastic new writing coming forward to give everyone an equal opportunity. We just need these writers to be given the chances they need in order to get their work out there and seen. We need more equality and we need more roles.
Not only are there less roles available, but there needs to be less stigma when it comes to body types too. So many castings are looking for thin and toned actors and we’re not all that! You need diversity because having a cast of all stick thin individuals in a show doesn’t particularly portray real life does it? People are of all shapes and sizes and it’s important to portray that. Just because someone is larger than someone else doesn’t mean that they can’t play the role just as good as someone who is thinner. Focus on talent. I couldn’t say it more!
What’s even more worrying, is that there are castings coming up who are looking for people who aren’t actors. Why push the performers opportunities further out of their own hands? Also, who on earth that isn’t an actor is going to be paying for a Spotlight membership in order to see these roles? It doesn’t make any sense. Castings should be utilising the trained professionals around them who are desperate to work.
When it comes to equality, why do we need to be labelled? We don’t need to have black actors, Indian actors, disabled actors, why aren’t we all just labelled as a general pool of actors? Why do we need to be labelled differently, when at the end of the day, we are all doing the same job? We are performing. We are acting, because we are actors. If a show is race specific to enable the story to be told accurately, for example The Color Purple, yes, the actors will be black, but that doesn’t make them black actors. They are just actors, playing a role in a show, surely? However, would casting directors take the plunge and cast an actor who isn’t race specific to a character profile as that character? It is an awful lot to think about. Whatever decisions people make, the outcome will never please everyone. It is such a hard industry to get right.
There have also been recent demands for agents not to submit musical theatre trained actors for straight acting roles, which personally, I don’t agree with. I am a musical theatre trained actor and what difference does it make? I’m sure some people like to think that musical theatre actors are all jazz hands, fake smiles and high kicks, but actually, they are just actors who can sing and dance. That doesn’t mean that they are stipulated to act only in musical theatre shows, or that they are incapable of performing in a straight drama production. It honestly is very infuriating. There could be an actor out there that would be 100% perfect for a role but won’t be seen because unfortunately they can sing and dance too. Not good.
The director who led the workshop I attended actually told us a very interesting story. Many years ago this director wanted to produce a season at Harrogate Theatre and applied for the job and attended the interview. The interview panel pulled him up on the fact that the two shows he wanted to produce in the season were all female casts. They didn’t seem to understand why he had chosen these shows and were shocked at his decision. He didn’t get the job.
I really am hoping (especially after all the campaigns for Times Up and Me Too) overall equality in the industry will be a massive focus for 2018. I do believe that people are taking notice of what’s happening and has been happening for years on end and that things are progressively changing, but just why has is taken this long to realise that things do need to change?