Last week, West End performer Michael Xavier complained that he has struggled to land parts in plays because of a “snobbery” from producers and casting directors within the industry towards people like him – those who are best known for musical theatre.
Xavier said he felt he had been pigeonholed slightly – despite the fact he studied straight acting at university and almost fell into musicals without really pursuing a career in them. Xavier is not the first to complain of this – and he won’t be the last – but his comments raise an interesting point about snobbery in the industry.
It’s a point, I would argue, that is not just confined to musical theatre. In fact, I would suggest that snobbery exists across the performing arts generally, including theatre and television. I would also say that snobbery isn’t just something casting director/ producers are guilty of – actors are just as likely to be snobby too.
While the musical theatre community may feel there is a snobbery towards them, they can be just as guilty of snobbery towards others too
Come on, admit it! How many of you have judged others because of the work they’ve accepted? I have. Okay, I’m not an actor, but I’ve often wondered, for example, why Barbara Windsor feels the need to appear in bingo adverts, or whyJoanna Lumley decided to appear in a car insurance advert or promote Sky’s latest gadgets. The answer, of course, is money. Every actor needs it, and adverts have a lot of it to pay to those who appear in them. But that doesn’t mean others won’t scoff at those who appear in them, seeing it as beneath them, perhaps. Don’t even get me started on Pantos…
And what about soaps? It’s often said that soap actors face snobbery from others in the industry. Michelle Collins complained of it, as has Tracy-Ann Oberman. Suranne Jones has admitted it exists too, but she has managed to show the industry just what she is capable of. Is that possible for every former soap star? Possibly not – unless they quit the soap after a stint of five years or so, which seems to be about the amount of time actors looking to try their hand at other things stay in a long-running drama. Any longer, and an actor may fear that they risk being forever known as their soap character. But is that fair, or right?
Then what about those actors who start in TV before making the move into theatre? They may become a name, thanks to the TV industry, and then land a sizeable part in a play or musical. But they risk being viewed by their peers as somehow less worthy because they didn’t begin their career on stage or aren’t known for plays.
Take Denise Van Outen as an example – she trained at drama school before TV work came her way. She then moved into musicals and eyebrows were no doubt raised by those who questioned her talent and her right to be there. And that only shows that while the musical theatre community may feel there is a snobbery towards them, they can be just as guilty of snobbery towards others too.
Look also at what happened when the BBC started casting shows through its Andrew Lloyd Webber series. Some West End performers hated the idea, even though most of those who went on to find success on them had already been trained, just like them. The shows simply provided another route into an already overcrowded industry.
I’m not suggesting there aren’t times when concerns are legitimate, and going back to Xavier’s point, it’s easy to see why he gets frustrated. He loves musical theatre, but that isn’t and shouldn’t be the only work open to him. Maybe all it takes is for a producer or casting director to look beyond the jazz hands and see what else is on offer. After all, musical theatre performers do it all – they sing, they dance, and they act too. Take away the first two and you have someone more than capable of appearing in a straight play. It just requires an open mind. And maybe that’s something everyone in the industry could benefit from.