A system to encourage gender parity in theatre and TV casting is being launched in the UK.
Neropa is a new concept invented by German actor and researcher Belinde Ruth Stieve to reduce the imbalance of male to female roles for performers. It works by identifying parts in scripts that are gender neutral and could be played by a male or female.
With backing from union Equity, Neropa will be launched to film, television, and theatremakers and producers at the BFI Southbank in London on January 18.
Stieve created the system in 2016, and is in talks with film producers and industry figures in Germany about incorporating it into casting for productions.
Stieve said: “Five years ago I started counting the number of roles for men and women [in German TV and film], because I kept hearing from casting directors ‘we don’t have any roles that you will be right for’, so I started doing my own statistics.
“It became clear there were twice as many roles for men than women, and the number of roles available for women started declining from the age of 40. However, men get more roles until they are 55. It was so obviously imbalanced that I thought ‘how can I change this?’”
The Neropa system assigns a team of at least three people, for example the producer, casting director and commissioning editor, to go through a script and highlight all the ‘neutral roles’. These are roles that are not specific to any gender and could be played by a male or female.
If a character does not have to be male it is listed as neutral.
The team then come together to agree on the neutral roles, and will go through the script alternately assigning them as female or male.
Stieve said it was important for the genders to be assigned in this pattern, rather than half male and half female roles being chosen consciously, to avoid gender stereotyping.
The casting directors are then left to fine tune the casting process by considering ethnic diversity, body image, age and other factors.
Stieve said: “More roles for women will result in more women on screen. At the moment, many female characters are only defined in relation to others, as mothers, wives, lovers etc.”
She added: “When you see what happened last year with the Weinstein revelations – it is that imbalance of power that makes the situation difficult. You need more female role models on screen in the industry.”
Equity councillor Jean Rogers is hoping the concept will be rolled out in the UK to help develop a “healthier” on-screen and on-stage gender balance.
Rogers, who has been in talks with Stieve about Neropa since its conception, said Equity would be putting Neropa in the spotlight at the London launch event.
“We hope that those who come along to the launch will spread the word that this is something practical we can do to change the culture within the industry,” she said.
“It’s about changing this culture of thinking that women are only there to be decorative, and that they have a sell-by date.”