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Regional bosses: UK theatres losing actors to lure of Netflix and London

Regional theatre bosses including, left to right, Birmingham Repertory's Roxana Silbert (photo: Manuel Harlan), Southampton Nuffield's Sam Hodges (photo: James Newell) and Leicester Curve's Chris Stafford (photo: Pamela Raith) say performers are increasingly turning down regional work in the hope of roles in London theatre or on television
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Leading artistic directors working in regional theatre have claimed that performers are increasingly turning down work across the country to keep themselves available for West End jobs and TV series.

They warned that this was perpetuating the idea that regional theatre is not as important as that in London.

Regional theatre bosses including Nuffield Southampton Theatres’ Sam Hodges, Birmingham Repertory’s Roxana Silbert and Leicester Curve’s Chris Stafford were among those who spoke to The Stage.

The conversation was sparked by a tweet from Alan Bates award-winning actor Georgia Frost, who said she wanted to open up a conversation about “discrimination” towards regional theatre.

Frost said she was aware of performers “turning down jobs in Manchester, Birmingham etc because it’s not London”.

Hodges responded, arguing that part of the issue was due to some agents encouraging actors to “stay available” for London theatre or Netflix gigs.

He said: “I could point you to instances where actors we have wanted to cast decline and have spent the entire duration of the gig they could have had working in the same bar, staying wistfully available.”

Hodges argued that part of the issue was due to an increasing number of co-productions, which resulted in longer runs and were therefore a bigger commitment for actors.

“It ends up being a 15-week gig, which has an impact on casting in terms of people who are up for it, unless actors are taking a jump, like Tom Burke did [in Don Carlos, on tour, including at the NST], and make a commitment,” he said.

Hodges said actors – particularly those who have benefited from regional theatre – should make a “commitment in advance” to one regional production a year, claiming this would set an example to “younger actors and mean we can take more risks”.

His comments follow similar concerns raised by commercial touring producer Edward Snape, who, writing for The Stage, said that “too many of London’s exciting plays are never seen more widely across the UK” because of high profile actors’ unwillingness to tour.

Fiona Allan: ‘I’d like to turn the Hippodrome into a Barbican for Birmingham’

Meanwhile, Watermill Theatre artistic and executive director Paul Hart agreed that “an increasing number of actors are being advised to hold out for London or TV work”.

Leeds Playhouse artistic director James Brining added “it goes on all the time”, arguing that the issue was partly down to an “over-concentration of resources in [theatres in] the South East of the country”.

Birmingam Rep’s Silbert said that while the theatre attracts “excellent actors from all over the UK”, she was aware of actors turning work down in Birmingham to “keep themselves free for film and TV work”, a choice she said was partly to do with profile and partly about economics.

Artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, Paul Robinson, and Curve’s Stafford said attitudes towards regional theatre needed to change.

Stafford said: “We’ve noticed an increase in requests for ‘betterment’ clauses in contracts in favour of London work, which perpetuates attitudes that regional theatre touring is less important.”

Robinson added: “Sometimes you have to win agents round. They might have a certain view of your theatre based on inherited ‘wisdom’ or prejudice.”

Fiona Allan, chief executive and artistic director of Birmingham Hippodrome and president of UK theatre echoed these comments, adding:  “There is a huge amount to be gained – and to learn – from undertaking work throughout the UK and not limiting a career to London. ”

A spokeswoman for the Casting Directors’ Guild, which represents casting directors across the country, told The Stage: “It is certainly true that some actors turn down regional and touring work, but for many different reasons.

“Home lives and caring responsibilities are a major factor. Others will be keeping themselves free for better-paid work on screen or feel that London theatres offer a better showcase, leading to more jobs in the future.”

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