Last week, the RSC faced criticism on Facebook over a 17-strong company featuring only three actors of east Asian heritage that will perform James Fenton’s adaptation of a piece that is often referred to as the Chinese Hamlet from December.
However, the Stage reports that British Chinese actor Daniel York, the vice-chair of Equity’s ethnic minority committee, has called for an apology and a public debate with RSC representatives, including artistic directorGregory Doran. The company has defended its casting on the grounds that The Orphan of Zhao is one of three plays being performed by the ensemble.
York told the Guardian last week that the problem was by no means confined to the RSC: “The whole industry is reluctant to cast east Asians in non-race specific roles. We are generally only thought of as the Chinese takeaway man or the Japanese businessman.” he said.
It is a vicious cycle, York said: “It’s incredibly hard for an east Asian person to build up the track record that would enable the RSC to feel confident in casting them in a decent role. We’re not on the radar because we’re not working very much.”
According to industry newspaper the Stage, the RSC’s head of casting Hannah Miller and producer Kevin Fitzmaurice met with Equity representatives including York last week. Martin Brown, spokesman for the actors’ union, said it was “now raising this matter with both employers and funding bodies and is calling for urgent action.”
Last week, Doran told the Guardian that the company had auditioned “lots and lots” of east Asian actors – including York – and had made offers that were turned down.
In a joint statement with RSC executive director Catherine Mallyon, Doran said: “We understand that the casting of our World Elsewhere season of three plays has led to much concern and are sorry that this is the case.”
“We do recognise that the lack of visibility for Chinese and east Asian actors in theatre and on screen is a live and very serious issue. We are beginning the process of talking to industry colleagues, representing employers and actors, to set up a forum for wider debate, which we hope will make a meaningful difference.”