Filed under: art, business, Gender politics, theatre | Tags: casting, girlfriends, Hedda Gabler, poledancing
Not long ago, my company posted a casting notice. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this and since then, the landscape has changed dramatically. The last time, we got headshots and resumes in the mail, which we stacked up in piles of yes, no and maybe. The last time I did this, 99.9% of the headshots were in black and white. It was less than a decade ago and the whole world has changed.
I mean casting is always sucky and dehumanizing and depressing but this time was worse. This time around, I posted on a free on-line casting website where actors can (and do) submit electronically. Instead of receiving piles of photos and paper, I looked at hundreds of faces on a screen. It was very easy to ignore anyone who didn’t write me a note (substitute for a cover letter, where have the cover letters gone?!) It was very easy to just not click on a face I didn’t find immediately appealing. This made me feel like a jerk, so I made myself click anyway most of the time. But with hundreds of submissions, that’s a lot of clicking and I reached click fatigue.
I had a terrible time of it because I was trying to cast a human being, not a type, and there is almost nothing human about any of it. Yet, the thing that was most distressing about it was this: What the new landscape showed me is what it means to be female in this business. The performance of femininity in these casting submissions was extreme. There were dozens of photos of actors in very little clothing. The reels almost always featured a scene with the woman half-naked or if not half naked, they were in bed with a man discussing their relationship. Every reel featured a woman playing some guy’s girlfriend. 8 out of 10 of these actors were also models and many of them advertised this fact. Many women included Pole Dancing as their special skill. (Now I understand some people pole dance for exercise and some idea of sexual empowerment but in this landscape it seems to signal, “I’m ready to play a stripper in your cable TV show.”) Looking at photos on actor’s websites, I saw them in negligees, in hot pants, in leotards and tiny dresses. I didn’t see any photos of Hedda Gablers, or Queens or Anna Kareninas. On their credits, their roles were Hot Chick or Cute Girl.
We are attempting to make work in a world where women are only girlfriends, wives and sex objects. And all of these women, attempting to get jobs, must highlight their abilities to fulfill any and all of these qualifications. And here I was in this very awkward position of wanting to cast someone to be none of these things and I could barely see through the obfuscation of the male gaze of prettiness, cuteness or hotness. I managed it somehow. I assembled a fantastic array of actual female human beings when it came down to it but I really don’t know how.
Generally, I tend to operate pretty far outside the mainstream and whenever I come into contact with it, I get pretty depressed, truthfully. I think this is because it’s hard to imagine change happening in this sea of girlfriends, hot girls and models. The women I know are infinitely more interesting than this but when they become actors, they’re encouraged to put all their interestingness aside and attempt to fulfill a fantasy of some kind. (And is it even a real fantasy? Who exactly are these people who want to look only at skinny white models and no one else? I get the feeling that everyone is playing a game of guessing what other people will like.)
On the business side of things, casting directors and agents give women advice about how to make them seem more like a fantasy girlfriend. No one’s giving anyone advice about how to be more fierce, about how to have gravitas or guts. And why should they? There don’t seem to be many jobs that require those things. But meanwhile the hundreds of pretty poledancing girlfriends all blend into one blurry example of patriarchy.
It makes me want to start an alternative casting service, one in which no one’s trying to fit into the existing structure. It would be like a Linked-In for alternative theatre. It would be a casting site where I could reach out to all the clowns and the fierce Hedda Gablers and all of the women who we’ve lost in the meat-grinding fantasy girlfriend-making machine. And that’s theatre I’d like to see.
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