Theatremakers from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds have called on the industry to address their underrepresentation and challenge stereotypical portrayals of their communities.
Theatre, TV and film have “a big responsibility” to represent and positively portray people from GRT backgrounds in the UK, they have argued, with discrimination against these groups described as “the last acceptable form of racism”.
At a panel event, director Alessandra Davison criticised the misrepresentation of GRT communities on stage and screen, arguing: “It would be a scandal in the industry today if [a character] was written as black or Asian and they cast a white actor, and yet I’ve never seen a prominent show or film that has a Roma lead, cast with Roma travellers.”
TV shows such as the Channel 4 documentary series Big Fat Gypsy Weddings have been criticised for perpetuating negative stereotypes of GRT communities, while a forthcoming film Gypsy Boy, based on Mikey Walsh’s memoirs of Roma traveller communities, also came under fire when Benedict Cumberbatch was announced to star in the project.
Davison identified a tendency for productions to group together different characteristics from different traveller cultures, which “get mashed together and presented as ‘gypsy'”.
She added that she would like to see the industry take more responsibility for accurately telling GRT stories: “Sometimes the burden is on the misrepresented community to explain their culture rather than giving them space to tell their own story.
“It is not the responsibility of that community to education people and to correct ignorance.”
Davison is working on the Young Vic project Me for the World, which is creating a new production with Roma traveller communities in London. She was speaking on a panel about GRT under-representation, hosted by Equity at the venue.
She was on the panel alongside writer and performer Richard O’Neill, who revealed that he had been unable to get his plays staged in the UK and had been forced to go abroad.
“I’ve had to go to Hungary, to Budapest, with the Roma theatre company there to put on two of my plays. That’s a bit sad,” he said, appealing to the industry in the UK to “give us a chance”.
The panel called on theatre to be more proactive in seeking out GRT actors and creatives, via social media, when recruiting for productions, rather than relying on tradition routes such as casting websites.
Ian Manborde, Equity’s equalities and diversity organiser, said he hoped the event, which was the first of its kind, would be the beginning of further discussions facilitated by the union to help address GRT under-representation.
He told The Stage: “It was a pleasure to partner with the Young Vic on this event, which has helped us provide a highly visible, national platform to this important feature of the union’s work. We seek to give voice to our GRT members in articulating their valid concerns about their authentic representation in the entertainment industry.”