Member Testimonials

Martina

I am very pleased to write in support of Equity’s campaign to produce a Manifesto for Casting. As the industry develops in line with changing markets and technology it is essential to review practices at all points of production. 

As an actress of colour, I realise that many of my experiences and reflections on the industry will hold resonance for all actors who experience ‘otherness’. As one friend of mine put it, “the invisibility of impairment” can affect all of us and I hope I can in some way speak to that as well by sharing my personal experiences. 

This same friend spoke to me of accepting the realization years ago of the casting box that she had been put in. She shared this reflection with casting directors she met who in turn congratulated her on basically knowing her place. She explained to me that she could accept ‘the box’ if within that box she was able to tell her story and be in control of the box. 

This box has become what another actress of colour friend of mine calls “the caring professional”. You know: teachers, care workers, parole officers, nurses etc. Anyone whose role is to basically care about what is happening to our white central protagonist. We are not interested in their individual lives just how they serve our hero/heroine. This fact makes them, in my opinion, contemporary manifestations of the caring ‘mammy’ role, the Help. 

The other thing that I know many black actors will also have experienced is the expectation to be “street”, the requirement to make the character “more black”- the definition of which boggles the mind and could take pages of exploration.

We all know that one. I even had the experience of being refused a part as a mother sending her son off to Oxbridge because when a slight Trinidadian came through in my accent (I should really have gone full on Trini in my opinion) the director could not understand how I could then have a child going to Oxbridge and worried about the political implications of casting me. Again, we could spend hours dissecting that one. 

This classism is something that is often overlooked in terms of race. I had a beautiful young actor become very emotional in a workshop that I produced of a Trinidadian adaptation of The Three Sisters by Mustapha Matura. This young man was cast as a lovelorn soldier off to fight in WWII. He was emotional because so far he’d only been cast professionally as Thug 2 or the like. He has since left the business. 

Which brings me to issues of mid-career invisibility. Of course, every director/casting agent wants to discover the newest young thing and young black actors can get caught up in this excitement of discovery only to then find that as mature adults there is no room for them in the industry. The invitation to participate needs to include people who come with experience as well as opinions and expectations, otherwise there is no real equality.  

What I call the “invite back” is often lacking: actors who serve the production house/company well deserve to be invited back as valued parts of the success they have brought to productions. This is what happens to white actors and how careers are sustained. But my own experience is of successful performances being seen as a one-off, somehow explained by the role suiting my “background” (again we could discuss just what that might mean) or something of the like. Our senior statesmen and women are often not seen beyond their colour or ethnicity to the accomplished performers that they are. 

I celebrate Equity’s focus in this campaign of not just building but maintaining careers within the industry.

Natalie 

Equity's new Casting Manifesto is so vitally important to Deaf and Disabled performers.

As a professional actress I have worked in this industry as both an able-bodied actress and as a disabled actress. The difference in how I was treated after becoming a wheelchair user was almost farcical. It was almost like no one would now take me seriously as a professional actress. 

I'd apply for roles where before I became disabled I would have got an audition for, to suddenly being told by my agent, there is no use me applying for a role that doesn't state the character is disabled. After 6 months of silence on the audition front, I decided to do an experiment and took that I was a wheelchair user off my Spotlight page. 

Within a couple of days I was offered an audition. I read the script, and there was no reason that it couldn't be played by someone in a chair. 

So I rang the production company to see if the audition room was accessible. There was a deathly silence at the other end of the phone.  I then got quizzed on would I be able to manage a 6 month shooting schedule? Would it not be too far for me to travel to the audition? Would I be able to cope with long shooting days? 

Questions I very much doubt I would have been asked if I was an able-bodied actor, as I'd never been asked this in the past.

So I went to the audition and read the scenes, only for the director to turn around at the end and say “oh you can act can't you!” I can't print what my response was, as it was somewhat colourful. 

There have been two occasions where they have invited me to an audition, knowing that I'm in a wheelchair, only to be met by a flight of stairs when I get there. And then to be asked if I could get up on my bottom and they'd carry the chair. I am not alone in this situation. I know an alarming amount of people who have been expected to do something that either degrades them, or is just physically obviously an impossibility. 

One of my colleagues not so long ago had to do the audition in the car park because the building was not accessible. Yet they knew he was in a wheelchair. 

The problems don't just lie with physical obstacles. I have also had Deaf colleagues who have turned up and an interpreter has not been provided. 

My last example is one that seems in trend at the minute. Companies becoming 'inclusive' is in yet another 'trend'. So big touring companies are conducting what I can only call a tick-box exercise. For instance, recently one particular company was staging a nationwide tour for a big named production, but only thought about casting a more inclusive cast at the last minute. So they sent out a brief for disabled artists. However, when an Equity member who has a physical impairment asked if all the venues they were touring were fully accessible, the answer was “oh I'm not sure they all are.” It's like companies want to look like they are opening their doors, but when it comes down to actually carrying things through, and fully understanding what is involved, they back out. As in the case above, in the end they cast an able-bodied actor. 

This Casting Manifesto is Equity showing its stance on ensuring best practice. For Deaf and Disabled artists, it is an important step towards challenging the industry's perception and treatment of us. And one that Equity can keep building on, not just in educating people about best practice but making sure it's being followed through. 

Flip

Actors face problems of practicalities.

Actors, like doctors, are ‘on call’ – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, unless they tell their agent they are not available.  The profession has got used to this, and perhaps thinking that if one actor is not available there will always be another who could similarly do the job has meant the idea of giving much notice is not imprinted in their thinking.

Actors often get a call at 5.30pm to be at an interview/audition/casting at 10.30am the next morning.  Not only that, but there is a script arriving by email that they want learnt for the next day. The practicalities might be that you have children whose homework you are supervising and whose dinner you are cooking.  Or you may have other caring responsibilities. You may have theatre tickets that night, you may have to cancel a medical appointment and pay a late cancellation fee and you may have to arrange someone to drop the kids off in the morning so you can prepare and travel to your casting – at your own expense and for which you are not being paid. 

There are many parts that could be cast with a truer reflection of the diverse society in which we live – older women are often absent in a production or mere stereotypes, many parts written for men could be played by women.  Similar restrictions face the Deaf and Disabled and ethnic minorities.  We would appreciate greater imagination being used. Audiences want variety of casting and to see people like themselves. We would like casting directors, directors and producers to know what questions it is illegal to ask actors to save them embarrassment. We would like casting studios to be accessible for the disabled and older, less mobile actors.

If you value someone, you treat them with respect and you pay them for the job they are doing because they are a professional.  In another profession, if you don’t get the job you will be informed and you may even be given some feedback on why that is. If you are invited for a second interview you will be given expenses and these will be paid in less than 12 months  that is currently the time it often takes in our industry.

This starts to sound like disrespect.

The vast majority of actors will do their absolute best to arrive prepared and on time for an audition, having done their research and learnt their lines to the best of their ability. They will also not complain when the script is different by the time they get to the casting. Most casting directors will be aware of that but many seem not to have given any of the above a thought.

Giovanni

It's easy to dismiss frustrations about castings as bitter rantings of disgruntled actors. It’s worth remembering that - unlike in other employment fields – when it comes to casting, at least in many of our employers' perceptions, “artistic decisions” trump all; and because “artistic decisions” are by definition subjective and thus not quantifiable, they can't be questioned.

Before we even get into who is allowed into the room and how they are treated, there is very little oversight over how castings are run: I found myself being sent 15 pages at 5pm for a casting the following day. Everyone can't stay up all night to be off book, because those less privileged among us do have other commitments (and, in fact, even the more successful ones might have things like shows to perform in). It didn't help that, in this particular case, when I got to the audition room, it turned out that the people reading in (the writer/lead/director and the producer) were working from a completely different script, and while they were very apologetic about it, it still meant I had to try and guess where in the script we were. In any other field, all this would be grounds to lodge a complaint – actors are meant to get on with it and stay charming throughout.

In recent years, self-taping has become the norm for screen castings, but there is no unified approach, neither technically nor in terms of what is required.  You're flying blind: you don't necessarily know what is required, nor can you get feedback from the caster in the room. I once was asked to record three different scenes, in two different languages, with two different takes for each scene – that's 12 different videos that I had to then edit (with the addition of an ident – one per language – where I introduced myself – that's 14 videos in total) spliced together according to their very specific instructions and uploaded onto a website of their choice. Including the line learning (and translating, which I was asked to do), recording and post-production, that took me the best part of two days. It goes without saying that the casters and producers can decide to switch it all off after 10 seconds or not watch it at all.  While it gives you access to castings you may normally not be seen for (because of logistics, if nothing else), it also means that it places the onus entirely on you.

All this is before you're even allowed into the room. What gets you — or doesn't get you — in the room is, of course, only speculation and unlike with other jobs, where you can test any bias that may be guiding the casting people with blind application, with acting jobs your face is often what gets you – or DOESN'T get you – in the room. Unless you've been (un)lucky enough to sit on the other side of the casting table, you wouldn't know. I had the (mis)fortune of working as a general dogsbody for a theatre producer, and some of the myths that we actors like to propagate to make ourselves feel less inadequate sadly proved to have some bearing on reality. Yes, now and then an actor – especially at the end of the day, when you're tired – will be invited just as something for the panel to laugh at. Yes, sometimes actors – professional working actors who've previously worked for the panel – will be invited just to show the panel “what we don't want” - this is somebody who prepared for this audition and thought they had a chance. They didn't know they were there only as an embodiment of what they weren't looking for.

Sometimes, however, you're lucky enough to hear face-to-face what they're thinking. You will hear on two separate instances, in fact, that you're not English-looking enough to be English, but “not ethnic enough to be ethnic” (that's a literal quote). Or maybe your agent will tell you before you go to a casting for the romantic interest (and you NEVER usually get seen for the romantic interest) that you shouldn't take this personally, but she got some feedback on another one of her actors who was being seen for a similar part. The feedback was that even though the reading was fine, during the post-reading chat, it became clear that he was... you know... he was... and could he keep it up? You want to shout back that Tom Hanks and Sean Penn were never asked if he could keep up “the gay”, but you don't. And when you're auditioning for a Bollywood movie, and your character is a pastry baker and they keep emphasising that over and over again in the casting as you try to play a human being until you realise what they mean by a “baker” and as you give them the caricature they were hoping to get, their eyes light up...

Being an LGB (I am purposely leaving out non-cisgender actors, as they face a whole series of issues a non-cisgender actor would be able to speak to more eloquently and knowledgeably) actor is unique in that your sexuality is not necessarily visible and intangible and in some ways only starts existing in the casters' heads once it's openly revealed in whatever shape or form. The moment that happens, however, it dramatically changes how you're perceived. Suddenly, authenticity becomes a totem everyone has to kneel in front of and once you've opened that box it becomes difficult to close it again. Unless the perception of you is so solid that changing it is almost impossible, in which case coming out with it is a calculated risk, allowing that to be known or even to seep through (one wrong remark may do the trick) is a decision you have to make. It's a decision between matching a preconceived ideal — one that even if you're out you have to subscribe to and the “opposite” of which you have to publicly decry in order to be allowed to embody it, or being true to yourself, which will most probably make you a better actor but might severely limit how you're viewed. And it's a question that – based on conversations I've had – is more controversial than one might think for an industry as ostensibly enlightened as ours.