THERE are fewer working-class actors in the profession than ever before, the Equity conference heard yesterday.
Addressing issues of equality and diversity at the actors’ union annual gathering, Greater Manchester delegate David Cockayne said he had noticed that younger people in the profession are increasingly from privileged backgrounds and that working-class representation is “even worse” now, particularly in the north, than it was before.
Liverpool and district general’s Stephanie Greer said: “The gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically.
“Art and entertainment should be a true representation of all backgrounds.”
She warned that “socio-economic bias” cannot be changed overnight but must be challenged at every opportunity.
Liverpool’s Martin Williams said: “Social mobility has come up time and again.
“I was brought up on a council estate. Increasingly, those entering the profession have a private income. I was lucky to have skills that enabled me to build some savings, but my sister had to give it up and now works in Poundland.”
Delegates heard how Tory cuts had affected the profession, with disabled actors losing vital support through “fit for work” assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) and employment support allowance (ESA).
Dan Edge of the deaf and disabled members’ committee said: “The Tories are making it harder for deaf and disabled actors.
“We are fighting on so many fronts. With PIP and ESA assessments, disabled actors are having their support taken away altogether.”
The conference heard how disabled actors already “face substantial physical and financial barriers” to casting opportunities.
Minority ethnic members’ committee chair Nicholas Goh praised the union for fighting racial discrimination through recent public challenges to casting decisions.
These included protests against the use of an all-white cast at the Rose Theatre in Kingston in 2015 and against white actors playing Chinese roles at the Print Room in Notting Hill earlier this year.
Mr Goh referred to research that showed those with foreign-sounding names receive fewer replies to job applications.
“We don’t look on people equally,” he said. “We can overcome it. The best way forward is to challenge more casting decisions.”
The conference agreed to step up Equity’s Play Fair campaign, which supports diversity in the profession, to enable the union to challenge and improve casting decisions consistently.