Until attitudes within British theatre shift

Entitlement much?

Kim Tatum dreams of playing Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard’s exquisite former star of silent films. Mariah Louca longs to perform as Dangerous Liaisons’ evil schemer Marquise de Merteuil. And for Reece Lyons, it’s the monstrous ambition of Lady Macbeth that makes her the ideal role. But, until attitudes within British theatre shift, it’s unlikely these talented performers will get to play their dream characters. Despite their skill, training and accolades, trans women just don’t seem to get cast in cisgender roles.

Yeah what’s up with that? Why do people who put on plays want women for women’s parts when they could have men instead? What are they thinking??

“I have never seen a trans woman on stage play a mother or a love interest,” Offie-award-winning Lyons says. “Why don’t we come to mind for that?”

I have a guess. It may sound crazy but I think it could be because they’re men.

Frustrated with the constant obstacles they face in the industry, the three actors are calling for trans women to be put on an equal footing for cis roles.

That is, the three male actors are calling for male actors to be “put on an equal footing” with women for women’s roles.

Most acting jobs already go to men, of course, because most plays are mostly about men just as most movies are mostly about men. Now men want to take the few women’s parts there are, thus confirming how manly they are, lipstick or no lipstick.

Consequently, trans performers struggle to find consistent work. “You can’t have a sustainable career within theatre if you’re only going to play trans roles,” Lyons says. There just aren’t enough parts. The failure to audition trans women for cis roles is a refusal to truly see them as women.

Because they aren’t women. Also, the fact that a guy can’t have a sustainable career within theatre is not a reason to hire him to play a woman. Most people can’t have a sustainable career within theatre. Vanishingly few women can have a sustainable career within theatre. Acting is a notoriously precarious profession, and most people can’t make a living doing it.

Auditions for cis parts are far more rare, Louca finds, and the majority of trans roles she’s been seen for have put trans agony at the forefront. None of the three are against playing trans roles, so long as that’s not all they’re considered for. Lyons talks with pride about performing in Travis Alabanza’s one-woman show, Overflow, in 2020 as Rosie, a trans woman who talks to the audience from a club bathroom. But being seen almost exclusively for trans roles reduces them. “Trauma is often all we’re given to perform,” Louca says. “Why would I want to relive that?”

For people who work in theater, or claim to, they seem remarkably obtuse about how things work. Casting isn’t done on the basis of who needs the job the most. It’s not done on the basis of who wants the job the most.

To help bring about more opportunities and greater equality for trans women, Louca believes there should be quotas in place. “If there’s 20 people auditioning, audition two or three trans people,” she suggests. Demonstrably increasing the numbers of trans performers considered for non-trans roles would enable more performers to build sustainable careers, develop more talent for our stages, and help influence attitudes among audiences. “Casting directors, producers and directors are deciding our narrative,” says Tatum. “But when you give trans women more visibility on stage and screen, it helps society understand us more.”

Again. That’s not how it works. The goal of theater is not to help society understand narcissists better.

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