Wednesday, 27 March 2013

BEAA Opening the door at the Young Vic: my South China Morning Post column

Here's my South China Morning Post magazine column on February's Opening the Door event at the Young Vic. (Published 17 March 2013) Full version below.

Was it when I reached for not one but TWO bags of cheese 'n onion crisps that my greed was exposed? First I'm demanding equal opportunities in the culture as a British person of east Asian extraction; then Hannah Miller, the Royal Shakespeare Company's head of casting, catches me red-handed grabbing that second bag at the end of lunch.

"Oh. TWO? I suppose they're small," says Hannah, daintily selecting a single one for herself. It's a spooky moment of deja vu as I'm sure I said something similar when the RSC cast only 3 east asian actors in minor roles out of seventeen in their "Chinese Hamlet": The Orphan of Zhao.

We're chatting at the Open Space "Opening the Door" event for east Asian actors and creatives at the Young Vic. It's an unprecedented meeting of talents put together by Improbable Theatre, Equity, the Arts Council England and various theatre bodies after prolonged talks with actor Daniel York, materialising only after the British East Asian Artists spearheaded the international protest over the RSC casting boob. This day would allow us to network and have THAT debate.

The noise we made over Orphan meant that, for the first time ever, we were heard clearly across the media and in the industry. As Samuel Johnson might have observed, is not a patron one who looks with unconcern on a person struggling for life in the water, and when she has reached the ground, encumbers her with help? No matter. It's here and it looks great.

Some 160 performing arts practitioners — half industry, the Other half east Asian artists of differing hues — are gathered here today. While being surrounded by so many beautiful, smart, talented people makes my eyes moisten, the response of the RSC, who sent a promising five representatives, is eye-watering.

What had Hannah and her colleagues learnt from the Orphan protest and what would they do differently? Nothing, it seems. Hannah repeated the claim that they had searched Spotlight for east Asian auditionees and "saw lots". And yet, said I, we double-checked and could only find eight.

"That's their prerogative," said Hannah. "That's up to them."

It was disappointing to find the RSC still complacently unreflective and unaware of why we were angry. Still, they've promised to team up with Equity and casting directors to meet more east Asian actors and "widen the pool of talent" by early summer. So here's hoping: fingers crossed.

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