Oh, the unglamorous life of an actor. The shit we go through and the crazy-ass roles we get sent in for and sometimes book. Also, the sexist and racist roles in Hollywood absolutely make me ask this question day in and day out. Why?
My friend Lynne Marie Rosenberg has started a revolution of sorts called Cast and Loose. It started off as a Tumblr page and has grown into something so much more.
This coming Monday, the 17th, Lynne and a cast of six others will quite literally breakdown breakdowns that actors receive for roles. I am so excited for Cast and Loose Live at Joe’s Pub, not only will it be a night of laughter but this show is very close to my heart because of its title: Aloha, Ghost In The Great Wall Of Ni’ihau! That’s right folks, Cast and Loose Live is tackling what the entertainment industry has to say about, the not so mystical creatures, Asians.
When and why did you start Cast and Loose?
Sometime around fall 2014, I started posting on Facebook all the offensive, misogynist, objectifying casting notices I was seeing every day as an actor. I was doing it mostly because I have really funny friends, a huge portion of whom are performers, so I wanted to commiserate and joke around about all this nonsense. Eventually, it was suggested to me that I aggregate the huge collection I was amassing somewhere, along with my commentary, and CastAndLoose the tumblr was born.
Because I'm a white woman, and see mostly breakdowns for white women, it started out focused predominantly on issues in female casting, but as the project grew it quickly expanded to racism, colorism, ableism, ageism, transphobia - the more you dig the more problems you see.
What are some of your favorite "breakdowns" that you have seen?
One of the first to inspire the tumblr, and in particular this upcoming show, was this:
"(20's/30's) - an Asian woman who doesn't have the hard features of most other Asian females - she is more elegant and sophisticated and knows it"
That one completely floored me - like, how is this even legal?
Also, related (indirectly) to this upcoming show, this is probably the most subtly funny breakdown I've ever read:
"[ EMMA STONE ] 18 to 35 years old, female. Looking for someone who either sounds like Emma Stone or can do her voice."
Have you ever had to audition for a role who's breakdown you found offensive and/or ridiculous? And if so how did you handle the audition?
I once got called in for an audition for a one-liner on a tv show and was told to just come in, they hadn't released a breakdown for it, and I could learn the line in the waiting room. When I got there, the role title was "Heavyset Woman," but there was no reason for it in the script. It was just a scene about a woman with a dog unknowingly greeting "the killer" on the sidewalk in whatever procedural it was (I don't remember, but it was not one of the Law & Orders - in my experience they have very respectful casting processes.) Now I'm by no means thin, but I'm also not heavyset, and being "called" that, especially when there seemed to be no narrative function for it was both baffling and hurtful.
Just within the last 6 months I've been called in for "attractive, but not exceedingly so," "Tired Mom," "not overly attractive," and "pretty in an imperfect way... non traditional or awkward beauties." No matter how much work I might do in therapy and in my own life to see myself as beautiful and attractive, I know that if I see the words "beautiful" or "attractive" without qualification in a breakdown, that's not me, at least as far as industry semiotics go. That's painful. In the eyes of the industry I often feel unattractive, sexless, and undesirable.
However, the flip side of that is, as a character actor, I get to work on more interesting, nuanced roles, and rarely have to contend with the sexually objectifying breakdowns some of my thin, "traditionally beautiful" friends have to negotiate.
As a white female actor do you think you should turn down auditions where casting is seeking "white" to play Asian or any other minority?
Absolutely. Unequivocally. I shouldn't even be in consideration.
Do you think by using comedy to spread your message you are able to reach a broader audience?
That is certainly my hope. I've mentioned this in a few of the live shows: a dharma teacher of mine once referred to laughter as, "the quivering of the body to accept new information." I think that's the basis of my mission statement as a writer and an artist, but especially when it comes to CastAndLoose. I think the beauty of CastAndLoose Live! is we can laugh at how absurd these practices are in the industry, while taking in that this is a reflection of our culture. It's insane when you say it all out loud, but this is really what we read every day as actors, and really what your favorite entertainments are stemming from.
What do you think some of the biggest misconceptions are of the API actor? And how can we as a community of actors change those?
I can only speak from what I read in my collection of breakdowns, of course, since I don't live in the world as an Asian actor, but I will say one of the biggest problems I see is what I don't see. Invisibility, or exclusion, is a major problem - breakdowns being released that specifically exclude the term "Asian" or "Pacific Islander" in a long list of ethnicities. To me, this suggests an industry belief that Asian performers can only do certain roles. When "Asian" is represented in the breakdown, for the women I see a lot of weakness, "submissiveness," and for the men it's a lot of desexualized, brainy, "wise," roles.
I think as actors it's easy to feel disenfranchised - we want jobs so badly we feel like if we whistle-blow in any way we'll never work again. Just keep showing up. Keep an eye on the breakdowns and make sure if something says "All Ethnicities," that your rep is submitting you and not assuming that actually means "Caucasian." And if you see something you'd be great for, but it specifically excludes Asian performers, I think it is within your right to respectfully ask why.
The CSA recently held a town hall for trans performers and the casting community, which I attended. David Caparelliotis spoke eloquently on how he has started to challenge producing teams to answer the simple question "why" if they refuse to see someone for a role who is trans, or disabled, or a different ethnicity, or a different body type than what they had originally envisioned. "Why" is a simple question, but a very powerful one. If you can get someone to have to say out loud what their prejudices are, they're much more likely to see them as such and reconsider.
On the subject, I would caution performers from scapegoating casting directors. This is not to say there isn't more that could be done on their end to open the gates for more diverse voices and bodies, but I often hear actors blaming CDs without realizing how many cooks there are in the kitchen, and how many levels above them are calling the shots. Casting directors are trying to get and keep jobs just like we are, but I know from conversations I have had, many of them are working VERY hard to get content makers to broaden their vision.
Any other projects you are working on?
I'm in the early stages of writing a more narrative synthesis of the work I've done with CastAndLoose - something that pulls from the issues raised on the tumblr, but in a more theatrical format, blending some personal narrative pieces I've been developing over the years with scenes and maybe even some music. Some of it I'm really excited about; some if it is a hot mess. But that's good theater, right?
Other than that I'm busy doing the usual thing where I believe I'm never going to work again until the next booking/audition/reading/whatever suddenly manifests itself and then I believe again for a day or so until the cycle starts all over... ;)
Any words of advice for aspiring actors out there?
As far as coming into contact with racism, colorism, objectification, etc. in the industry goes: don't feel disenfranchised, and don't be afraid to speak up. It is a lie that you'll be "blacklisted" or you'll never work again. As long as you are respectful, you could enact change. Worse comes to worse you won't work on a project that would have sucked anyway, and instead something will come along that will be right.
As far as sticking to this challenging job: as my therapist says - sure, you're beating your head against the wall, but if you just keep doing it, at some point it has to crack.
And lastly, do not believe for even a moment that you need to change something about yourself in order to fit into this industry. It is a lie and a waste of time. The industry needs to change to fit you. I believe the entertainment industry more than any industry in the world has the ubiquity and reach to cause the most good, but only if every single person involved in it is committed to authenticity and honesty. To be utterly yourself is to change the face of representation simply by being.
I hope to see you all at Joe’s Pub this coming Monday, July 17th!
Cow image courtesy of @arse_writes via Flickr Creative Commons License
Graphic design by Ramon Tejada