I was sat on my break checking my phone when I first saw the VaVaoom story. I didn’t really have time to read it in detail. I scanned it and gleaned that yet another white person had been exposed for sharing what was on their minds regarding the current changes we are all facings around race in the UK.
An actors agent had posted a unacceptable comment about the current casting climate and Black Actors on her Facebook timeline.
I skim read the story at the apology statement stage and the word Facebook was what struck me at first. I had a brief conversation about privacy and forums with my colleague and then returned to what we were doing that afternoon.
We were sitting in the Oldham Coliseum casting for the new play Bread and Roses and meeting Black British Actors all day. Our story and the way we are choosing to tell it requires a wide range of people to create a community that reflected the times back in 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts, USA. Because of this and my role at Hull Truck Theatre I have had many considered discussions regarding race, casting and the U.K. theatre industry.
Over the years our Theatre Company Hidden Gems Productions have held countless auditions where we met many talented actors that looked like us and represented our nation, all ages too! I chose on behalf of our company to call every agent and actor in order to let them know if they had been invited to join the production or not. I knew the time it had taken to prepare and travel to see us. I inadvertently struck up conversations with Actors Agents and Actors about the specific difficulties of gaining an audition for Black Actors in the UK with so few opportunities. I tried to encourage agents and actors if I had the time with feedback and shared the belief that we were all working towards a better day where Black Actors had more opportunities.
When returning to The Stage article on the bus ride home, I had the chance to read it in detail. The words ‘taking away from talented white actors…’ and the summing up of Black actors only being able to bring the Vavavoom and cool made me stop and look outside at the view then read it over again.
I returned again to my previous thoughts about privacy. I agree with Daniel York regarding Gemma Hamilton’s comments: https://mobile.twitter.com/danielfyork/status/992316924267778048
She has been busted for a thought that others may have had but didn’t get caught… we know this is what some of our colleagues in the ecology of theatre are thinking, only it never usually comes to light at this scale and now she has been left to clean up as if she were the only one that ever thought that thought. If people and organisations choose to share their thoughts on whatever platform, then be prepared to stand by what you believe, be accountable or I imagine there will be boom business in writing apology statements over the next phase towards change.
Back to privacy, running to change privacy settings and locking dinner party lists is not the solution, it’s part of the problem. Being in environments where you can discuss these questions virtually unchallenged is no space for progress of thought. Had I had the misfortune of being asked this question in a forum because I was in that network, I would have had to challenge it, but I’m not because we are not networked, because she thinks like that… and this is how it works… my journey, my life’s work, my thinking are far removed from hers but I bet we have mutual peers and friends (I haven’t checked) who can move the conversation on because after this sideshow distraction I’ve got work to do which includes the following.
I have championed and directed underrepresented stories in our UK Theatre for most of my career. As part of that work I had the privilege of working with talented Black Actors who had a powerful tenacity and resilience. We are now entering into a world where people of colour who act are being invited to audition for a wider range of stories. This is what equality and diversity looks like. This is what those of us who have being pushing have been fighting for and will continue to do so. I look forward to the day when I can look back and laugh at these days like it wasn’t even a thing.
I’m hoping every single decision maker has worked out their position and the organisations they lead. I’m pretty sure every single POC that works in theatre has been asked their position on casting and the changes towards all talent being invited to the table.
I adored how Black Twitter took the word VaVaVoom and smashed it. Laughed at it, twirled it over their heads and practically paraded it at Carnival. They did not weep, although Lord knows it’s painful, they kept moving towards the audition doors, stepping in to show exactly why they have been invited.
Sometimes the truth that we already knew but hadn’t yet come to light sets us all free.
See you soon.
You may want to read further content connected to this blog:
https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2018/agent-apologises-claiming-casting-call-bame-actors-stinks/ (requires login details)