As an actor in community theatre in a city in Australia I come across some… interesting directors. As a director of youth theatre I’ve definitely made a blunder or two. Thus I watch and analyse directors I work with in order to improve my own practice. This series will explore the various downfalls I’ve experienced or witnessed and how to fix the situation. In part one we’re looking at casting calls. These have needed to evolve over the years to move with the times. Unfortunately, we have directors in community theatre (and probably professional too) that haven’t kept up.
“Sexist Play. Will Bring the House Down.”
This was a description in a casting call of the show a local theatre in my area is putting on. My first advice to this director is… don’t. If your show is truly that one dimensional you shouldn’t be putting it on in the first place. However, the show in question is made up of caricatures making fun of women and gay men. While I feel like this sort of show is inappropriate today, unfortunately people do still find it funny, and will likely sell well to the theatre’s target audience.
My initial reaction after reading this was that I want no part in a show that classifies their show as sexist. I’m exasperated that I live in a world where someone in community theatre thinks that’s an appropriate thing to write. Which brings me to the next thing that directors need to be aware of which is their character descriptions.
Young Attractive Female
Physical descriptions should not describe the attractiveness of an actress. In this same show all roles for young women are described as being either attractive or good looking. The easy solution is to just remove that descriptor. You will pick your actors that fit your vision, and these can be people you view as attractive, but you shouldn’t be putting this on a casting call.
Colour Blind Casting
Unless it is a pivotal plot point in the show, I think casting calls should also be colour blind in community theatre. This is especially important in schools where students of other ethnicities will always end up in particular roles because of their skin colour or because most shows that are appropriate for high schools are typically about Caucasian characters. Why shouldn’t Sarah from Guys and Dolls be of Indian descent? In my view it is more important to give students opportunities that they may not get in a professional setting. The exception to this rule would be a show like Hairspray as representation in a show about racism is important.
Home Away from Home
Community theatre to me is a place that all actors should be able to feel safe and valued, no matter their gender, orientation or ethnicity. How do we as a theatre community bring some of our less socially aware colleagues into a new generation where sexist shows won’t bring the house down and actors are able to audition for roles without feeling judged by their appearance. If directors start by emitting appearance descriptor such as good looking and attractive from their casting calls and instead describe the characters personality that would be a good start.