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Editor’s View: Will BAFTA casting director award lead to changes at Oliviers?

Olivier statuettes. Photo: Joel Devlin
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Five years ago, the Oliviers faced calls to introduce an award for musical directors; today, there are demands for a casting director category.

This is the price of success. A decade ago, the demands on organisers to recognise a wider cross-section of theatre were less prominent because so were the Oliviers.

Calls intensify for Oliviers to introduce casting category following BAFTA move

Complaints of unfairness are a backhanded compliment: people want to be recognised at the Oliviers, which has become Theatreland’s most prized awards.

That is not to say they are perfect: all awards are to varying extents a compromise.

How many and which awards you offer is a balancing act between the best of intentions and practicalities such as budget, time, demand and the judging panel’s ability to judge.

And when, like the Oliviers, an event is televised, there is an extra set of considerations and vested interests to deal with.

So, I have some sympathy with the Oliviers’ position and, while it’s tempting to hope it might follow BAFTA in introducing a casting director award, I suspect it won’t.

There are a few reasons for this. The first is the Oliviers has only recently announced a shake-up to its categories for 2020 – more wholesale changes so soon seem unlikely.

The second is that the Society of London Theatre (which organises the Oliviers) is a different beast to BAFTA, which is a membership organisation that includes senior creatives of all types, including casting directors. It seems logical they should recognise the creative talent in their own ranks.

SOLT, though, is a trade body that has a membership of theatre owners and producers. For them, the Oliviers are primarily a marketing exercise for mainstream London theatre. They are also the voters: would the current judging system, in which members vote, come up with sensible choices in a more specialist sphere?

Then, there is the law of accumulation. If casting directors, why not movement directors or production managers? As the Oliviers are currently marketed none of these categories would make complete sense alongside the more obvious public-facing awards.

Casting directors play a hugely valuable and under-valued role and they should be celebrated, but perhaps the answer is not to include categories such as these in the Oliviers, but to create a different awards that recognise the inner workings of the UK theatre industry – like BAFTA’s Craft Awards.

But to do that successfully, SOLT might need to consider opening up its membership.

Alistair Smith is the editor of The Stage. Read his weekly column at thestage.co.uk/author/alistair-smith

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