‘Not a ter­ror sus­pect again!’ – Bame stars ap­plaud type­cast-bust­ing au­di­tion guide

Book aims to help black and Asian ac­tors shrug off stereo­types and show their real tal­ents

The Observer - - News - Vanessa Thorpe Arts and Me­dia Cor­re­spon­dent

Need a con­vinc­ing mem­ber of a street gang for a TV show? Or a sus­pected ter­ror­ist for a po­lice in­ter­ro­ga­tion scene? Bri­tain’s type­cast black and Asian ac­tors are used to rolling their eyes, tak­ing a deep breath and head­ing off for the au­di­tion. The chance to show off the wider range of their act­ing skills is rare.

But a book pub­lished next month is likely to help. The first of its kind, Hear Me Now: Au­di­tion Mono­logues for Ac­tors of Colour, is de­signed to com­bat this stereo­typ­ing and al­low ac­tors to tackle a greater breadth of sub­jects.

“When­ever I had an au­di­tion com­ing up, it was so hard to find some­thing I re­ally wanted to do,” said 24-year-old ac­tor Shiv Jalota, who is on tour in the hit stage ver­sion of

Mark Had­don’s The Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent of

the Dog in the Night-time. “It all gets so lim­it­ing, es­pe­cially as I of­ten felt I had to go for the role of a Mus­lim kid who is rad­i­cal­is­ing, or some­thing about an ar­ranged mar­riage.”

Fel­low ac­tor Chi­nenye Ezeudu agreed: “This project is spe­cial, as we are of­ten en­cour­aged to pick a char­ac­ter close to our­self for au­di­tion. But it is hard to find pieces, so we’re al­ways hav­ing to play some­thing that isn’t true to us.”

Calls for di­ver­sity in act­ing have grown louder over the past decade, but writer Ti­tilola Dawudu, who has com­piled more than 80 short orig­i­nal mono­logues for the book, came up with the plan with Ta­masha Theatre Com­pany be­cause she felt there had been enough talk­ing.

“It came out of the idea that we don’t just want a bet­ter con­ver­sa­tion about di­ver­sity – we want ac­tion,” said Dawudu, 37, who stud­ied stage and screen­writ­ing at Cen­tral St Martins drama cen­tre, Univer­sity of the Arts Lon­don, and who men­tors young ac­tors at Oval­house, a theatre in Lam­beth, south Lon­don. “Peo­ple in their early ca­reer reg­u­larly speak to me about their frus­tra­tions. They want to get away from the stereo­types. Now at least they can have an au­di­tion piece they feel all right about and that can em­power them.”

The se­lec­tion of mono­logues, pub­lished by Oberon Books, con­tains many more de­lib­er­ately “nu­anced sto­ries”, rang­ing from a piece about a cross-dress­ing imam, to the first black prime min­is­ter and a Bri­tish-In­dian girl who dreams of be­com­ing a coun­try mu­sic star. “I used to write them for my per­former friends in Croy­don who were hop­ing to get into the Brit School,” said Dawudu, a Nige­rian-born Lon­doner. “So, from work­shop­ping with ac­tors, we came up with ideas that could some­times be played by a white ac­tor as well, but were not so con­fin­ing for BAME ac­tors. There’s an as­tro­naut, for ex­am­ple, and a su­per­hero.”

For Dawudu, a good au­di­tion piece, while only two or three min­utes long in per­for­mance time, ought to take you on a jour­ney. “It was about hear­ing what the ac­tors said they wanted to play,” she said. “Some pieces are quite cul­tur­ally driven, and might be about race, but some are not. A few pieces are about dual her­itage. But it is not Lon­don-cen­tric in its lan­guage.” Jalota, who said his role in The

Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent is the first that is not pred­i­cated on his skin colour, took part in the work­shops and found it a relief to jump out of stan­dard BAME per­sonas. “It opened it all up. I worked on one mono­logue about a karate teacher ob­sessed with sci­en­tol­ogy. It was so much more re­ward­ing and not as­so­ci­ated at all with my eth­nic­ity.”

Dawudu said: “The in­dus­try is chang­ing, and we now have more colour-blind cast­ing, but cast­ing di­rec­tors are still usu­ally white. So, a lot of times, black ac­tors are still go­ing for bit parts, or parts that are neg­a­tively stereo­typed, like ter­ror­ists. They may not feel good about it, yet they need the work, so they have to go for them.”

Shiv Jalota as Christo­pher, with Kathryn McGarr, in The Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent of the Dog in the Night-time.

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