Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Stephanie Street: #YesOrNo shows how far theatre has to go with its hiring practices

Organisations that have committed to getting back to every actor who auditions include, clockwise from top left, the National Theatre (photo: Philip Vile), the Almeida in London (photo: Philafrenzy/Wiki), Bristol Old Vic and Leicester's Curve
by -

Another month, another dynamite hashtag orbits the theatre Twittersphere. As delighted as I was to see news of the triumphs of the #YesOrNo campaign, I know Danny Lee Wynter well enough to know that he won’t let the cause go with just the support of big hitters like the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Chichester Festival Theatre. Nor should he.

As much as it’s been galvanising to read all the support for it, it’s been depressing in equal measure to see the tangible resistance. Ultimately, it was a reminder of just how much further we have to go with our hiring practices in this industry.

“Come on actors. You must accept the unspoken rules of auditions… if you didn’t perform well enough, [it] should motivate you to perform better next time,” I read on Twitter.

It came from a member of our community and in it there’s the usual patronising and belittling of ‘thesps’ and our fragile egos.

Plenty of people have called out the campaign, saying the same happens in other sectors. But in other sectors, people don’t routinely try out for three jobs or more a week, week after week, all year round.

And then there’s been this kind of ‘helpful advice’ on offer from actor to actor: “I usually give it a week, and if nothing, on to the next one. Try to let it go as soon as possible. Helps my mental well-being.”

Sure, you can twist yourself in emotional knots trying to cope, but you could also expect the people who want to hire you to conduct themselves with the same professionalism they expect from you. So it is potentially another layer of work for casting directors and agents, sending out a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. But, hey, learning pages of dialogue at a day’s notice around the day job and family commitments is no walk in the park either.

“It isn’t feasible to offer feedback. If 100 actors came in to the first round to read five lines, no. But if you’ve had to prepare tons of stuff or are in round two or beyond, yes.”

This for me was the most revealing response, because it hits the nail on the head of the scummy side of our business – a side I first noticed when I did a cattle call for a new Asian family on one of our major soaps at the start of my career, surrounded by at least a hundred other young Asian women. Actors are so often like machine-gun ammunition, to be randomly sprayed at a role in the knowledge that one will eventually hit the target.

Even if it is just five lines for a commercial, that’s a day of temp work sacrificed, or a babysitter who had to be organised at no notice, which involves at least five phone calls and a mountain of stress. That effort, and the professionalism of the actor who turns up and waits patiently, dressed for the part, desperate to be the right fit, ready to be compliant with almost any piece of direction given, needs to be reciprocated.

Actors are not a commodity, and any perception that they are needs to stop. It’s as simple as that.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.