Exclusive: diversity of West End musicals revealed for first time
Exclusive research by The Stage has revealed the breakdown of West End musical casts by gender and ethnicity for the first time.
Intended to provide a snapshot of the West End in 2019, the research details the performers appearing in some of theatre’s most high-profile shows, as well as analysing how gender and ethnicity affect the types of roles cast. The research will be repeated in future years to monitor whether the levels of representation change.
The 2019 results reveal that black, Asian and minority ethnic performers make up 38% of cast members in the 19 commercial West End musicals counted.
This figure means West End musicals are more ethnically diverse than their counterparts on Broadway, where 34% of musical casts are from BAME backgrounds, and considerably more diverse than programming on UK television, where BAME actors make up 18% of performers, according to the most recent monitoring data.
Breakdown of West End musical performers’ gender and ethnicity
Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose foundation produced the 2016 report that labelled the British theatre industry “hideously white”, said he was “delighted to see the wonderful diversity of London’s population is to some extent represented” on West End stages, but that “more needs to be done” to open up training and careers in theatre to a wider pool.
Black actors make up a significant majority of BAME performers in the West End, accounting for 85% of the total number. East and South Asian actors represent just 3% and 7% respectively. These proportions are at odds with the UK at large, where the Asian population is double the size of the black population.
While the overall percentage of BAME performers in West End musicals is higher than in the UK population as a whole (13%), it is roughly in line with London’s BAME population (40%). Meanwhile, the West End figures are significantly boosted by six productions that feature predominantly BAME casts. These include some of the West End’s newer shows, Hamilton and Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, as well as longer-running productions The Lion King, Thriller Live, Motown and Aladdin.
Together, these six shows account for 70% of all BAME performers counted. If they are removed from the figures, the percentage of BAME cast members drops to 18% across the remaining 13 shows. These include long-running musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia!, which contain overwhelmingly white casts despite the writing or direction not requiring this to be the case.
Olivier award-winning actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who is currently appearing in Tina, responded to the findings and said while he feels diversity is embraced “as an idea” in theatre, BAME or differently abled lead actors are not cast in prominent roles “unless there is a reason in the script or a directorial concept”.
“While I embrace conversations about inclusion and diversity, they have yet to become real or visible on our stages and screens,” he added.
The research also looked into the gender of West End musical casts, finding 58% of actors performing are men and 42% women. When factoring in gender and ethnicity, white males proved to be the largest group by some margin, making up 37% of all performers. BAME women were the smallest group, accounting for 17%, while white women and BAME men made up 25% and 21% respectively.
When looking in more detail at cast breakdowns, the data shows that BAME performers and women are significantly more likely to be cast in an ensemble role than they are to be given a named role. For example, there are twice the number of BAME ensemble performers as there are BAME leads.
The inverse is true for white men, for which there are more performers in named roles than there are ensemble members.
Number of roles undertaken by gender and ethnicity
What does this tell us?
Black, Asian and minority ethnicity men and women are both twice as likely to be cast in an ensemble role as they are to be given a named role. The data shows that there are twice the number of BAME men and women in ensemble roles as there are BAME performers in lead parts, with female performers who are BAME the least likely to be cast in a named role.
However, for white men this is the reverse. White male performers are more likely to play a named role than they are to be an ensemble member.
White women, like BAME performers, are more likely to be in the ensemble than a named character, however the difference is less marked than for BAME individuals.
Ethnic breakdown of West End musicals
• 62.2% White
• 31.7% Black
• 2.6% South Asian
• 1.1% East Asian
• 2.2% Other ethnicity
Ethnic breakdown of UK population
• 87.1% White
• 6.9% Asian
• 3% Black
• 2% Mixed race
• 0.9% Other ethnicity
How the 38% of BAME performers in West End musicals compares to…
• Population of London: 40%
• Performers in Broadway musicals: 34%
• Performers on UK TV: 17.5%
• Population of UK: 13%
This piece of research by The Stage’s news team focused on the commercial musicals running in the West End, in order to obtain a snapshot of cast diversity in 2019.
To define a West End musical, we considered musicals running at commercial theatres with full membership of the Society of London Theatre. At the time of counting – March 4, 2019 – there were 19 musicals in performance that met these criteria.
The Stage carried out the research by following a similar methodology to other research in this area and in consultation with theatre academic Jami Rogers. Individual ethnicities and genders were determined using a range of sources including casting profiles, cast list information on show websites and further online research. Information on individual roles was taken from the cast list on a show’s official website.
All adult cast members listed on the official website of each production were counted, and individuals were placed into the following categories: Black, East Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, South Asian and White.
The ethnicity of a very small number of performers could not be confidently determined, and these entries were therefore recorded as unknown and excluded from the analysis.
The research was conducted by The Stage news team: Georgia Snow, Giverny Masso and Matthew Hemley. Data gathered on March 4, 2019.
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