It’s been over a year now that live entertainment has been shut down. All around the world, seats in concert stadiums and theatres have sat completely empty. But what has proved true time and time again, is that artists are just as adaptable as they are talented. Theatre companies have not only moved to a digital medium to showcase their art, they have managed to support artists during a time where the industry’s trademark of instability is at its worst. While these stories of perseverance are commendable and inspirational, it seems that the already elusive world of theatre just got a whole lot more exclusive.
An important part of business is networking and politics. It’s often not what you know but who you know, and this rings just as true in our industry. 13 months after the shutdown, it has become super clear which artists theatre companies want to support and who they don’t.
In normal, pre-pandemic times, it wasn’t unusual to see the same faces gracing the stage, hopping from one theatre to the next and then back again. As an artist myself, I don’t place blame on fellow colleagues for following jobs and money. In fact, it’s really heartwarming to see people getting regular work and finding success and stability. I fully expected this cycle to continue, but what I didn’t anticipate was it tightening; and at such a time where artists need more support than ever. I have asked this question time and time again, but now as we look to the future of theatre and preach equality and inclusivity I have to ask again – what’s the hidden criteria to being welcome in your space?
I’ve seen no casting notices coming out, yet theatre companies all over my city are continuously producing new works. Announcing new mentorships and scholarships. And while I am so grateful and thankful that artists are being supported, especially artists from marginalized groups, I also wonder why these opportunities were not publicly extended. It’s already really discouraging not being able to get into auditions in favour of more seasoned artists, or to struggle to get your foot in the door to be considered for a union. But when theatres cut off the opportunity entirely and seem to hire from their private circle, it’s demoralizing.
I’m just going to come out and say it. I don’t feel welcome or wanted in English-speaking theatre. I’ve always felt like the new girl, or the token – whatever you want to call it, it feels like I’m always standing on the outside. This was a constant feeling I was contending with, even before the effects of this pandemic seemed to amplify everyone’s anxieties and fears. I’m afraid I’ll ever be on stage again, and I know I’m not the only one. I’ve spoken to at least a dozen artists this past year alone who are desperately afraid they’re going to leave the industry. These are soulful, talented humans who ooze artistry with every fibre of their being – who can’t get an audition simply because companies don’t want to see new faces. It’s no wonder they feel that they don’t belong in the world of theatre.
I find myself to be in a fortunate position. I’m being pulled away into the world of film, and it’s promising more opportunities to explore every artistic facet I could dream of. Theatre doesn’t seem to want me anyway, so it’s almost an easy thing to walk away from. But the truth is… I don’t want to, and it hurts my heart to feel like that’s the only option I have. If Theatre wants to chew me up and spit me out, let it be for my lack of talent. Not because I’m not a “stage pretty” version of Asian. Not the way I publicly push for change.
Traditionally, ghost lights illuminate empty stages in darkened theatres. Many companies have renewed the tradition of ghost lights as a way of indicating that they will re-open. None of us want to walk away, especially at such a crucial time, but the heaviness in today’s climate leaves us wanting to turn off and leave our theatre experiences in the dark.
To theatre companies all over the world – I implore you to use this time to look for new faces and new artists who can truly bring this industry into a new age of diversity and inclusivity.
We are here.
We’ve always been here.
But we won’t be here forever.
You can check out more about Joanne Roberts on her website at www.Joanner.com