Clash of the Titans… And the opening of a door #EAActors

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In a previous blogpost, I wrote about a lack of minorities both on my course and auditioning for roles. For any of you who have known me for longer than the last 48 hours, you’ll know some-to-lots about what I’ve been up to since graduating.

After the controversy surrounding the casting of that play, I was asked to join a steering committee for an event that would bring together the likes of Arts Council EnglandEquity, Casting Directors Guild (CDG), Independent Theatre Council (ITC), Society of London Theatre & Theatrical Management Association (SOLT/TMA) and the Young Vic Theatre. It was an amazing opportunity to really make a difference to something I love, about a culture I love dearly.

In an ideal world, we’d all see things like a Panda: Black, White, Asian – who cares? We’re all the same, it’s all good because, well, who doesn’t like a Panda? Sadly that just isn’t the case and although all ethnic minorities struggle to find their place on stage, where are all the East Asian actors at?

Yeah, it’s hard to recall isn’t it? And it’s not that there aren’t many: there are loads. It’s not that they aren’t as equally talented as any other actor: they are. But when you are frequently asked to play a takeaway owner, kung fu master, exotic & unattainable whore, subservient wife, illegal immigrant or tourist, how will you be able to show that you can be more than that?

There have been many arguments advising that it is hard for actors in general so why should East Asians get any special treatment? The answer to that is, if you speak to anyone in industry, they will tell you the same thing: “it’s not been intentional but there is a lack of East Asians on stage and screen.” In some cases, some have admitted that they’ve just clean forgotten about representing East Asians. That isn’t great but admitting there is an issue is a great first step, but what are we going to do from here?

When the steering committee first met, we came up with allsorts of ideas for the day and ways in which we could use the time. Suggestions ranged from debates (too confrontational??) to networking (a leap too far??), so eventually we settled on the idea that the day would be in the same style as the Devoted & Disgruntled’s Open Space format. The day would try and address the issues and find a way to move forward and encourage real change.

The provocative statement for the day was written by my fellow committee member, Daniel York:

 My name’s Daniel York. I’ve been an actor for twenty years and in that time I’ve played the lead in a play that sold out at the Royal Court, was personally recommended by Alan Rickman to play Fortinbras to his Hamlet, did a season at the RSC, also worked at the National, Edinburgh Traverse and Hampstead Theatre and won an award in Singapore but I’ve found I’ve hit a massive glass ceiling where I go for literally one theatre audition a year because I don’t look Chinese enough to play crap Chinese parts on TV.

It has often seemed to me that in the last 10 or 15 years our industry has sat back and congratulated itself on the increased number of “Black & Asian” faces on our stages. Unfortunately “Asia” all too often has stopped dead at Pakistan. “East Asia” (according to wikipedia) consists of Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Hong Kong, Indonesia, North Korea, South Korea, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Nepal and Mongolia. East Asians (the fastest growing minority group in Britain today) have been sidelined, ignored and marginalised to the extent that even now it often appears to me that theatre producers will even actively avoid casting them in plays.

It’s my contention that East Asians are a third class ethnic minority in terms of UK media. I would go as far as to say East Asians are treated almost as a sub species. Reduced to silent and even grotesque stereotypes with no empowerment or presence. Our diversity, our experience and our talents unrecognised, even our BRITISHNESS such is our status as perennial foreigners, and all too often we are forced to rely on physicality and archaic exotica in order to gain any kind of employment opportunities.

Those are my views and I’ve also incorporated things other people have said as well. But what about your views, your opinions, your questions? Let’s freely express ourselves right here right now and really tackle these burning questions-

  •  Why are East Asians continually discriminated against in UK media?
  •  Why are East Asians perennially invisible in UK media and what are we going to do to address this?
  •  What can we do to we change the current tokenistic representation of East Asians in UK theatre into a more integrated one?

 In other words:  What are we going to do – right now – to end the marginalisation of East Asians in British theatre?

As you can see, East Asia is massive and think about the cultural diversity there! Quick pop quiz:-

  • How many forms of martial arts do you think there are within these countries?
  • How many languages and dialects are spoken across these countries?
  • How does the food and cultural values of the people differ?

The answer is lots. The conversations and topics were all great and inspiring, the only issue I had was that there wasn’t more of me to hear all the conversations. For me, what was the nicest thing about the day is knowing that I’m not alone. I am in fact not a minority within a minority. Almost half of the actors present on the day were Eurasian – a term I was recently told I had made up – which is to say mixed-race European and Asian.

Everyone went away seeming rather galvanised and, having met like-minded people, ready to start something. Now we just need to get spaces to rehearse or perform… Easier said than done but hopefully we’ll get there.

It’s difficult to be patient. We want change and we want it as soon as possible but we need to remember that Roman wasn’t built in a day. There were some excellent conversations and suggestions that came from the day including ITC and Equity promising to review the effectiveness and wording of the current guidelines in regards to Equality and Ethnic Minorites and The RSC and The National Theatre are setting aside an entire day for open auditions for East Asian actings. Though they won’t be casting for particular productions, but there is hope that they will get to know East Asian actors. and, in turn, their faces will become more visible in theatres and on screen.

So no promises of overnight changes but that wouldn’t be sustainable anyway, however I do believe that the East Asian acting, directing and production community must keep going because – naff as it sounds – together we really can make a difference.

If you fancy finding out a bit more, check out the reports, comments and leave your own here! Go on, you know you want to. Like Tesco say: every little helps!


Author: littlemissmandu

Polymath. Writer. Eurasian Daisy Steiner. Best Cheerleader '93.

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