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Theatres urged to cast more British BAME actors over international performers

Daniel York and Emmanuel Kojo. Photo: Pamela Raith Equity's minority ethnic members committee members Daniel York and Emmanuel Kojo
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Theatres are being urged to employ more British actors from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, rather than “unthinkingly making requests for [non-European] based performers at great expense”.

An open letter to subsidised theatre producers from Equity’s minority ethnic members committee has argued that casting performers from outside the European Economic Area “should not come at the expense of work opportunities and pay levels” for British based BAME talent.

It claims that British based BAME performers are not only “locked out” of castings in the UK, but often do not have the international profile to gain work opportunities abroad.

The letter is signed by actors Daniel York and Emmanuel Kojo, who are the committee chair and a minority ethnic members councillor respectively, and Equity’s general secretary Christine Payne.

They argue the practice of casting actors based outside Europe has become more prevalent.

The letter says: “The historic lack of profile for BAME performers based here means they do not have the opportunity to work outside the UK that their other colleagues do.

“Often, outside the UK there is a greater effort made to engage local performers from under-represented groups – which we show solidarity with – but this shrinks the pool of opportunities for British BAME performers to work abroad.”

The letter argues that the cost of engaging performers from outside the UK is high, because they are often provided with high standards of accommodation, contributions to social security systems outside the UK or higher wages where industry standards in their home country surpass those in the UK.

It adds: “At a time of austerity, in a climate where BAME talent does not have the opportunities here in the UK that we reasonably deserve, we cannot believe that it is reasonable for subsidised producers to unthinkingly make requests for non-EEA based performers at great expense.

“We are the taxpayers who pay for this work, we are the performers who develop it – surely modern casting should put our ability to access these opportunities at the heart of the process.”

The minority ethnic members committee goes on to urge producers to engage with Equity to “ensure the best possible practice in casting before spending large amounts of money on engaging performers from outside the EEA”.

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