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Dear West End Producer: ‘Will non-binary actors be allowed to play either gender?’

West End Producer
West End Producer Photo: Matt Crockett
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We live in a time when theatre and the whole entertainment industry is actively trying to be more diverse and representative, with gender and colour-blind casting (and quite right too), and actors with disabilities being given more opportunities than before (but of course there need to be more). The aim is one day for an industry that allows anyone, of any ethnicity, sexuality and gender to be embraced, accepted and encouraged to play any role at all.

Of course, there are people that challenge the ideas of gender and colour-blind casting – saying that roles were written for a specific type of person, and by using a different ‘sort’ then it takes away certain elements of the play. But this could not be further from the truth. After five minutes of watching a show where an actor is playing a role they wouldn’t conventionally be playing, an audience quickly forgets and accepts what they see. This is the magic, and indeed the transformative joy, of theatre. No matter what you are, and no matter who is watching you, you can literally be anything. There are no boundaries, and the illusion of theatre only helps support this idea more. Using different actors enhances a story, allows new discoveries to be found and questions our very ideas and attitudes towards the play.

So, specifically to your question, I think the entertainment industry is getting there. We are not there yet, and it will be a while before the role of non-binary actors will be commonplace in the business, but theatre and the arts is the most open of careers – and with people like you pushing, championing and raising awareness of the need and necessity to make the business entirely inclusive for non-binary actors, then the change will happen. And I cannot wait for it.

We all need to work together and start encouraging theatre companies, drama institutions and even amateur companies to start breaking the stuffy old traditions that theatre can often be hindered with. And that all starts with wonderful people like you – who question and put themselves out there. I have nothing but admiration for you – and urge you to sell and celebrate yourself to all the casting directors and agents out there. It’s an exciting and important time, with some productions and TV shows now focusing on non-binary characters – such as Transparent – and it won’t be long before this starts happening more. Places such as the Soho Theatre enjoy pushing and shaping our attitudes with brave work – it may be worth getting in touch.

The industry is inclusive, but could be more so. At present most companies (and I hope to be proven wrong) will tend to cast you as the gender you have been assigned at birth. But with companies such as the Donmar having all-female casts, and Propeller having all-male casts, the next move is to have entirely non-binary casts. It won’t be too long before non-binary actors are playing leading roles at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Now that would really be progress. And I can’t wait to see you in them. Bravo, dear.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

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