I’m pretty much on top of this – it’s other people who need to do the work
“I’m pretty much on top of this –
it’s other people who need to do the work”
There’s always more for all of us to learn! Even if you’ve already done loads of work and thinking in this area, or if you have lived experience, there will always be more for you to find out about how different people experience the industry.
The look and feel of an inclusive theatre industry is evolving, not static. That’s because our awareness is constantly expanding; some of today’s focuses – such as how to make careers in theatre more open to parents, or how to ensure better representation of trans people – weren’t being widely considered a few years ago.
As the world beyond our industry changes, new challenges will be created for certain groups. None of us, no matter how much great work we’ve already done on broadening perspectives within our rehearsal rooms can sit back and feel there’s no more for us to do.
Challenging unconscious bias
All of us have unconscious bias. We need to be pro-active about acknowledging and addressing this. This 3 minute video from the Royal Society gives a good introduction to unconscious bias.
Towards the end, the video lists four actions the Royal Society has started asking its selection and appointment panel members to follow when making decisions about candidates. You might want to watch the video and consider: what would these four actions look like if applied to the casting process?
If you’d like to further explore the impact of unconscious bias and learn some techniques you can use to address it in yourself, we highly recommend the book Everyday Bias by Howard J. Ross. For a shorter read, there’s a chapter on unconscious bias specifically within a theatre context in Tonic’s book All Change Please, a practical guide to achieving gender equality in theatre.
Theatre makers are increasingly being given the opportunity to re-imagine canonical texts, dismantling old rules that dictated which kinds of actors (with which kinds of bodies, experiences, and characteristics) got to portray which characters.
Productions that have done this have invigorated our art form and caused us to see new possibilities that we may not previously have considered.
In future years there will be productions and portrayals that will surprise and challenge us even further – so we all need to keep open-minded and curious about exploring this new terrain. Feeling we’re ‘on top of’ diversity or have ‘ticked that box’ is the opposite of the spirit with which we should be entering into this.
Maintain an intersectional focus
Intersectionality is the idea that forms of inequalities overlap and are interrelated at both a personal and structural level (i.e. racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, Islamophobia, etc.)
Considering intersectionality is crucial to avoid falling into the trap of assuming progress is being made, whilst continuing to overlook or exclude certain groups. In the context of casting it could, for instance, mean going beyond just monitoring the number of women cast across a range of productions, to also looking at what proportion of these women are from under-represented ethnic backgrounds or are disabled.
Our tracker tool can help you think about some of the various criteria you can apply to give you a nuanced picture of where you and the organisation(s) you work for are at.
Professor Kimberlé Crenshawe initially coined the term intersectionality. In this video she’s talking about it in the context of US schools but the principles carry to other contexts, including the UK theatre industry.
If you’re interested in reading more about intersectionality, you could try the article by Dr Lisa Woynarski, the Research Associate on Tonic’s gender equality-focused Advance programme. The article is published on page 31 of the Advance Website Archive PDF (13Mb).
As an example of how intersectionality plays out in casting, this article explores how Hollywood has increased its on-screen representation of Black actresses – but only those who are lighter-skinned and have facial features and hair that resembles White Europeans. It provides a clear example of how failing to take an intersectional approach can limit progress (and, in the words of the author, leave dark-skinned Black women and girls in the audience still feeling “that they are invisible and not worthy of anyone’s celebration”).
If you feel that you are doing good work in this area please share your learning and knowledge with others who may be looking for support and inspiration to get to where you are.
Can you utilise your professional networks or speak to your union or membership body about ways to disseminate and build on good practice?