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Celebrity casting in theatre

Photo: An Actor's Journal

A Younger Theatre reposted an old article today on celebrity casting and it made me realise this is something I've meant to write about for ages.

This is something that's often talked about, and something people often get on their high horse about. So, my basic feeling is - if someone is talented enough, fits the role, and has the stamina to be in the show, what's the problem?

Obviously if you come out of the production disappointed by their performance, then you may question the integrity of the casting decision - but it's when people jump to assumptions on first hearing the casting of a show that frustrates me.

I love theatre, and there's a huge sense of community around it - whether working on a show, in a theatre or just talking about it on Twitter, but with that also sadly comes a sense of exclusion and snobbery.

Actors often train and start off in theatre, then go into telly or perhaps pop music. Then, when an opportunity arises to be back on stage, they take it and are immediately judged. What may have been a first passion, beyond their prominent career they're known for, is presumed to be a passing interest that they're not entitled to.

A problem many have with celebrity casting is that to cast a celebrity is just a ploy from producers to "get bums on seats." In which case, if the talent is there - good luck to them.

People ignore the fact that we need new theatre audiences. Theatre-going is habit forming, and perhaps for some - a little intimidating, or presumed as something they wouldn't do. If someone is drawn into the theatre based on casting of a celebrity they like, and then they have a good time - surely they're more likely to go again? I really think, if the decision is made with integrity intact, it can only be a good thing.

So when people still have a problem with this - it makes me think it's a feeling of theatre not being for everyone which is a shame. If you're so passionate about theatre, surely you want others to go and enjoy it too?

My only real gripe with it, other than when casting is completely wrong and the performer inadequate, is that it can be distracting. With a really big name, even when the talent is there, people can get a little stunned by this star presence to the point of not engaging with the play in the same way they might otherwise.

Oh and then there's how people get so used to celebrity casting - that if is a show is coming to town and I tell someone about it, they ask who's in it. When I say no one they'd know, there's too often a sense of disappointment. As much as I'm fine with celebrity casting, it's a sad sign of the times for this be expected as standard.

As for television casting shows, perhaps they have gone a little too far and the whole thing is a bit ridiculous but again - it lets people into the process and it gets people into the theatre. Mostly, the performers that audition have trained and been working in theatre for some time - but just haven't had their big break. In which case, they're not taking a role from someone who has trained for all these years to have it - it's rightfully theirs.

Plus, if for one role - someone with no experience takes it and is incredible - good. The finance side of training, alongside the necessary encouragement from friends and family to keep going with it, means that not everyone will have that opportunity to pursue their dream.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's casting shows also tend to support the performer in training but also placing them into the ensemble of another show to prepare for this principle role. They're not thrown into a lead role in an eight shows per week production with a "fingers crossed" attitude.

Yes, producers want people to book on hearing the show announcement and subsequent casting but a lot is to be said for reviews, public opinion and word of mouth. If the talent isn't there - it won't work out well for them.

So basically, let's get off our high horse. not judge and crack on with hopefully enjoying some good theatre - whether the lead is "off the telly" or not.