Eyes wide open
I don’t like the terms ‘gender blind’ or ‘colour blind’ casting. When I cast, I am the opposite of blind: I have my eyes wide open and my mind is at its most alert, political and flexible.
Assembling the right cast is arguably one of the most important jobs in the creation of a new piece of work. Of course you have the story to consider, but you also have the process to bear in mind. This group of people will be the fearless explorers that bring ideas to life. This group will find the surprises and clues lurking in the corners of the subject matter and will bring their own theatre and life experience to the table. They will form the ‘collective imagination’, as I like to call it.
I often choose personality over talent. That sounds rude (and is patently incorrect as I have the privilege of working with some of the most talented people on the planet) but what I mean is that it doesn’t really matter to me how famous, or even how inspired, someone is as an individual. What matters is how they will inform and engage with the material, with the rest of the group and ultimately with the audience. My work demands generosity on an industrial scale and I need people that are fundamentally team players. I need performers that will go out there and make each other look good – night after night. These generous, brilliant, unusual people are rare and precious. When I find them, I try to work with them time and time again – if they’ll let me!
Over the years, I have built a strong, skilled and varied pool of actors, musicians, technicians and creatives, and this is one of the reasons that I choose to cast surprisingly. If I am going to work with the same actors, I need to keep challenging them and myself. I need to subvert what might be obvious casting and start imagining the deliciously improbable. This kind of thought process led me to cast a substantial middle aged man as the young virgin Brangian in Tristan & Yseult. The results were not only surprising, but successful. Audiences laughed and then wept. It seemed that by removing cliché we were able to identify more readily with this woman, to project onto her our own feelings and fears without the barrier of the obvious. We are all capable of pretty much anything, so I cast in the same way. I look for a spirit that chimes with the character, but beyond that, I let my imagination do the work and trust that the audience will do the same.
I not only trust the audience, I trust my actors and I trust myself. We all crave meaning and we do not mind how we find it – in fact we want to be challenged, provoked and surprised. And I want to fill my rehearsal room with vivid, engaged and varied people who want to share their stories and talent, share the joy and the journey.
This is creatively thrilling, but there are even more important matters at play in 2018. The people that we present on stage need to represent the people we see on the tube or in the supermarket. It is imperative that a modern company creates access and casts diversely. Those with the power to employ have a duty to use that power wisely and to share it wherever possible – this includes having as many women on stage as men and representing modern British life at every turn. My time at The Globe gave me many things, but the most precious was the chance to meet and work with so many artists from different backgrounds. This personal revolution has opened my eyes to the cultural and personal depth that a varied cast and creative team can bring – not only to the work but to life. I work in an imaginative and story form so there are no barriers to gender parity and diverse casting and no barriers to creating access to all areas of the work. Don’t let anyone tell you differently! If I say a cup is a mouse, the audience will see a mouse. If I say a woman is man, they will believe it and if I cast a man and a woman from different cultural backgrounds as identical twins – no problem.
Welcome to Wise Children and the most wonderful, surprising, perfectly fitting and wide-eyed casting!