Actor or actress? Join the debate…
Just so you know, I am – more often than not – likely to refer to a performer as an ‘actor’ regardless of their gender.
But that is only because the style guide of The Stage says that I do so, unless I am referring to an awards category or if a performer calls themselves an actress. We would never say ‘female actor’, because it just sounds wrong.
The Stage consulted The Guardian’s style guide in drawing up its own guide. The Guardian states that the word actress comes under the “same category as authoress, comedienne, manageress, ‘lady doctor’, ‘male nurse’ and similar obsolete terms that date from a time when professions were largely the preserve of one sex (usually men)”.
Whoopi Goldberg is quoted as saying: “An actress can only play a woman. I’m an actor – I can play anything.” I rather like that. And given the recent calls of performers such as Emma Thompson for more gender-blind casting, perhaps actor is the best term that can be applied to all performers, regardless of sex.
If it was adopted more generally, however, it would be interesting to see how awards ceremonies cope. Having watched the BAFTA film awards this weekend, and seen how the categories divide performers into actresses and actors, would we find ourselves just having a ‘best actor’ category in which men and women are lumped together?
This week I did a quick, informal poll on Twitter to see what the consensus is out there. I found two things: firstly, I have never had so many people respond to a question I have asked. Secondly, I didn’t realise opinions would be so divided – particularly among women.
Here are a selection of the responses I received. Have a read and see what you think:
Fiona Allan, chief executive of Curve in Leicester:
@MattHemley one term for both. And for all other examples cited. And whilst you're there, get rid of Miss and Mrs.
— F i o n a (@Fiona_Allan) February 17, 2014
Louise Brealey, actor in Sherlock:
@MattHemley Don’t have any objection to being described as ‘actress' but use ‘actor' to describe self.
— Louise Brealey (@louisebrealey) February 18, 2014
Susan Penhaligon, actor (or actress):
@MattHemley S’pose I’m old fashioned, I like actress, but then I also am a Ms. What does that say? :)
— susan penhaligon (@susanpenhaligon) February 17, 2014
Caroline Sheen, West End star:
@MattHemley I grew up wanting to be an ActRESS. Ain't nothing wrong with that! (i also wanted to be a princESS at times!)
— Caroline Sheen (@SheenCaroline) February 17, 2014
Diane Neve, theatre fan:
@MattHemley actor & actress. Also comedian & comedienne.
— Diane Neve (@dianeneve) February 17, 2014
Beccy Wire, performer:
@MattHemley Think it largely depends on your love of gender specific nouns. I don't mind being an actress but I'm happy to be an actor too.
— Beccy Wire (@Bexwire) February 17, 2014
Chris Smyth, theatregoer:
@MattHemley We don't differentiate other professions based on gender, why should we differentiate actors?
— Chris Smyth (@merrychrissmyth) February 17, 2014
Stephen John Davis, actor: