Arts Council England, Equity and SOLT/TMA are working together to arrange an event early in 2013 designed to increase opportunities for East Asian artists. It will be a day-long event designed to facilitate introductions, increase understanding and broker partnerships between East Asian actors and theatre makers and the wider theatre industry.
A steering group is being assembled to oversee the detailed arrangements. More information will be circulated once the venue has been confirmed.
Arts Council England met with Equity officials late in October to discuss the under-respresentaion of East Asian actors in UK theatre. The meeting came in the wake of concern expressed by Equity members over casting decisions made for an RSC production of a Chinese play. In recent days Equity has had a significant number of messages from East Asian actors expressing their concern about how hard it is to find work in the UK. Equity officials and members have also met with the RSC to discuss the issue.
Two members of Equity's Minority Ethnic Artist's Committee have publically criticised the Royal Shakespeare Company for casting a play regarded as the Chinese equivalent of Hamlet with mainly white actors. Of the 17 actors cast in the forthcoming production of The Orphan of Zhao, only three are of East Asian heritage.
Committee Vice-chair Daniel York believes the problem runs across the industry. He told The Guardian: "The whole industry is kind of reluctant to cast East Asians in non-race specific roles. We are generally only thought of as the Chinese takeaway man or the Japanese businessman. It's incredibly hard for an east Asian person to build up the track record that would enable the RSC to feel confident in casting them in a decent role. We're not on the radar because we're not working very much."RSC Artistic Director Greg Doran said that the RSC auditioned "lots and lots" of east Asian actors for The Orphan of Zhao, and in some cases made offers that were turned down. "I look at as many actors as I can, and choose not on ethnicity but the best actor for that role. That's the only way to do it," he explained. "I have to say, partly, it feels a bit like sour grapes."
Martin Brown, Equity Assistant General Secretary, commented: "This is a very serious issue and I pay tribute to the members of Equity’s Minority Ethnic Members’ Committee who have raised public concern about it. Equity is calling for an industry-wide debate on the casting situation for East Asian actors involving artistic directors of major subsidised theatres, Arts Council England, Skillset and the Theatre Management Association. The lack of employment opportunities for East Asian actors is industry-wide and the focus of this debate should not be confined to the RSC. Equity is also calling on Arts Council England to require all theatres in receipt of ACE funding to provide equal opportunities monitoring data of performer employment as a condition attached to receipt of public funds.