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Dear West End Producer: ‘Are castings that ask actors to shave their heads unfair?’

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Acting is a competitive business and actors have to be prepared to do whatever it takes. The character needs a shaved head? Then shave your head (go the extra mile by doing it in the audition itself). The character needs to be 7ft tall? Then stretch yourself daily and learn how to walk in particularly high heels. The role requires you to fly? Then learn that miraculous gift as soon as possible, God dammit.

I jest, of course. The truth is that actors have to know how far they’re prepared to go, and what things they simply won’t do. It’s important to know your boundaries. While getting work is obviously important, you should never have to compromise your integrity.

I have heard of actors being asked to restyle their hair, whiten their teeth, grow a beard (particularly women), lose weight, gain weight, remove tattoos, change their eye colour, develop a mono brow, even grow a third nipple (for a particularly experimental piece in the 1960s). However, actors must always remember that they can say: “No”.

The greatest power an actor has is their ability to turn work and auditions down. Now, this is a difficult thing to do, and should only be done when you are certain it isn’t right for you – but doing what is right for you is rewarding. If you don’t want to shave your head, you don’t have too. Simple. And if you don’t want to do a certain show, you don’t have to do that either.

Now my dear Jes, I notice from your lovely Twitter photo that you have glorious hair. A lovely river of blond rippling down your back – so why on earth would you ever shave that? Don’t. In my opinion your glorious example of hirsute splendour is something that will help you get work – it makes you unique. Of course, it could be argued that if a director wanted a performer with long hair they could just give them a wig – but clearly your hair is something that has taken years of encouragement and expensive conditioner.

So, in answer to your question, I think yes, it is unfair to ask actors to shave their heads – if they need someone who looks like that then they could always find someone who already has a shiny top – of which there are many (they could just give Ross Kemp a call – he’s up for anything these days).

The truth is you wouldn’t be right for that role anyway – so try not to worry about it. Your hair makes you perfect for roles that would not suit someone else. So, instead of focusing on how unfair it is, focus on the positives: the next long-haired-leading-actor role is yours.

NB: I notice that you sent this question to both the wonderful John Byrne (below)and myself. After due consideration I felt it appropriate that it was answered by the most qualified man. And that is me. As I still have my hair, dear.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer. Read more of West End Producer’s weekly advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/westendproducer

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