Miranda Hart in ‘Annie’, Joe Sugg and Ashley Roberts in ‘Waitress’, David Hasselhoff in ‘9 to 5’ and soon Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Sunday in the Park with George’. British theatre is filled to the brim with famous names and celebrity casting, so what does that mean for the profession and the people invested in it?
Stunt casting has become a common occurrence in the UK and referees to a practice where the casting of a role is used to generate media attention.
Investing in shows based on already successful books and movies and hiring big names to create and star in them has proven a receipe for sucess.
The West End earned an estimated 765 million pounds in box office revue last year, but is this way of casting giving unknown actors a fair chance?
Casting based on social media presence
Earlier this year actor Stephen Hoyle shared an advert for a commercial on Twitter that said applicants had to have “more than 5,000 followers on Instagram”.
British actors have reported seeing a rise in the number of similar adverts, telling people only audition if they have over a certain amount of followers.
One casting agent defended the practice saying they ‘’need the lead role to have a good social media following in order to help sell tickets”.
Actor Cara Minde finished drama school earlier this year and recalls being asked about her social media following halfway through an audition for an Edinburgh Fringe show.
‘’I was very surprised! The show wasn’t even about social media, it was a period drama! Shouldn’t it be all about my ability to do good work?’’, she asks.
Stunt casting has also sparked controversy when productions have swapped an actor out with a more famous name halfway through a run, in order to sell more tickets.
However, the argument has been made that having to get rid of one actor to keep a show open is better than having to close it, leaving hundreds without work.
In theaters like The National Theatre and The Old Vic, keeping a show open longer also means more money to put into the venue’s smaller, more fringe shows.
Challenging drama school privilege
British drama schools are expensive, but the idea that you have to have attended one of them to qualify as a proper actor is still present in the industry.
When it was announced to YouTuber and influencer Joe Sugg would be taking on a role in the West End musical ‘Waitress’, actors and theatre fans took to Twitter to express their anger, pointing out Sugg’s lack of drama school training.
Despite this, many professionals were eager to defend the casting choice. Actor Nicole Raquel Dennis (Dear Evan Hansen, Waitress) tweeted: ‘’You don’t have to train. I didn’t train and I’m in the same show. Training at a top drama school isn’t the only way into theatre (…)’’.
Jess Wood has been a working actor for three years and says she can’t help but feel conflicted about it: ‘’As someone who went to drama school and worked hard, it is frustrating to see someone famous, with no training, just walk right passed you and get offered a job you didn’t even get to audition for. But then again, coming from a working-class background, I love that everyone’s getting a chance now. There’s a lot of snobbery in the industry and I think this has killed some of that’’.
In an interview with The Stage, an unnamed West End producer admitted that he didn’t think stunt casting would ever end, but urged young actors to keep their chin up and find a way to work around it.