December 22, 2016

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Don't talk about Hamilton

December 22, 2016

  

At the moment I'm in a month-long run of a children's Christmas show in which I play a fairy and a sock. It's absolutely ridiculous and I love it. A few days ago two Chinese kids came in and as soon as they saw me onstage, their faces lit up with excitement and recognition. YES, I AM LIKE YOU! YES, I AM ONSTAGE! AND YES WE ARE GOING TO SAVE CHRISTMAS TOGETHER! I can't explain how I felt but it hadn't even occurred to me how significant that was. 

 

I don't think many (the majority) realise how subconsciously damaging it is to not see someone like you on stage, TV and film. It feels lonely and alienating and frustrating.

 

Now, I FULLY SUPPORT blind casting, with no regard for colour or gender. The problem is, we are NOT at that stage yet.

 

I know that it is difficult for ANY ACTOR to get work, as such it is difficult for me to blame one who takes on a role that is whitewashed, but people in power who think that's okay need to reconsider their choices.

 

Disclaimer: There are going to be some very painful truths in here that many will not be prepared to face, but if what I mention is something you cannot accept at the moment, that is TOTALLY FINE. Take a break, mull over it, maybe do some reading, then engage when you're ready. But please, whatever you do, do not disengage, dismiss or deny the existence of these truths and how entire communities feel about it.

 

If you're in a position of privilege, please do not take this as an attack. Please do not feel guilty, but be grateful to be born with a 'preferred' skin colour, sexual organ or financial stability that you did not even choose. But if you're in this privileged position, that doesn't mean you cannot align with anyone who does not share the same experiences or traits as you (so to any Singaporean Chinese who doesn't think racism exists on our island, pay more attention). Please do. Please understand that a voice in a high position can go a long way.

 

We are not at the stage of fully blind casting because, at the moment, mainstream media and production houses are pushing out stories that reflect a male, heteronormative, Eurocentric or westernised perspective of what it means to be human. While this perspective is entirely valid, it does not represent the experiences of the world.

 

If at this point you want to use Hamilton as an example to counter what I'm saying, DON'T. I know it exists. But how many other examples like Hamilton can you list? That's the point. Having one great breakthrough does not justify any regressive attitudes. If you want to lose weight and you diet for one day then have KFC for the rest of the month, IT DOESN'T WORK.

 

The point is that while steps towards diversity and inclusivity have been made, they are still VERY SMALL, and mostly met with resistance, and as someone who is 'different', this is really painful to witness and experience. It would mean so much if people who have never had to worry about this in their lives realised that this is happening to others and didn't perpetuate the status quo.

 

Allow me to also take this opportunity to call bullshit on any drama school who defends their white middle-class cohorts by saying they've never rejected someone on the basis of colour and financial background.

 

Firstly, to even REJECT someone, they need to have APPLIED first, and if auditions alone cost between £50 to £150, the financially-challenged can't even apply. So yeah, true, you don't reject them, but your door handle isn't even within their reach. Secondly, assuming some of them do audition and get in, the fees are so damn expensive that most reject the school anyway. So yeah, maybe you didn't say no to the poor folks but you've definitely made it really hard for them to say yes to you.

 

And yes I know drama schools are not the only expensive places for higher education and the current socioeconomic climate makes it hard for anyone born after 1985 to get a job anywhere, but that's a pretty shit excuse for absolving blame. Accept that Andrew Lloyd Webber has called you out on your horrifying lack of diversity, and think about what you can do.

 

It's not just schools. It's the bloody industry. If the stories and characters on stages and screens are mostly white, it's no wonder people of colour rarely audition for drama school. And if the only people of colour are servants, shopkeepers, immigrants, terrorists, nerds, prostitutes, first to die, comic relief, losers and only deliver one-liners in 'authentic accents', then why the hell would they even want to spend ££££££ training to play those parts?

 

I could speak about this for ages but frankly, I'm so tired. I'm so tired of being silent, and when I say something and get lambasted from every angle with no support, I feel worse.

I've been told to refrain from making a stance but I can't be quiet and smile, I cannot be political when my very existence in this society and industry is already a political statement in itself. I can't stay silent when my right to be here is questioned on a daily basis. But you know what? I don't have to be alone and misunderstood. And a little bit of solidarity would make a huge difference.

 

Victoria Chen is a theatre maker currently in her final year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. More about her work and experience can be found on ‪http://ChenVictoria.wix.com/home , on Twitter ‪@viktxria and Instagram ‪@vhickles.  

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