In October 2017, the National Theatre (NT) and Spotlight launched ProFile – an online video database of d/Deaf and disabled actors for the use of casting directors, directors and other industry professionals across the UK film, theatre and TV industries. ProFile is a free service both for actors and for industry users, and its aim is to champion this group of actors within the industry and to help increase their representation on our screens and stages.
In 2014, Nicholas Hytner (then Artistic Director of the NT) shared with the Casting Department an email he had received which questioned why we did not have more d/Deaf and disabled actors on our stages, and challenged us to do something about it.
The first step was to improve our knowledge of who these actors were, so we teamed up with the RSC and various other freelance casting directors to hold a series of open auditions for professional d/Deaf and disabled actors. We met 60 actors in total, most of whom we had not met before, and we learned a lot in the process - not only about the practical elements of access requirements, communication, language and so on, but about our own assumptions, prejudices and fears about getting things wrong. We began to understand that the latter had proven historically as much of a barrier to the inclusion of many of these actors in our industry as the former.
Over the coming months and years, we auditioned and cast various actors we had met at these auditions, but not as many as we might have liked, and progress was slow. Over the same period, the NT started to build its Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and it was at this point we realised that to achieve our ambitions in this area, it would take some dedicated thinking and practical work above and beyond what any individual creative, casting director, director or any other member of staff had the capacity for, so we designed the Creative Diversity Project.
The Creative Diversity Project aims to support and facilitate the achievement of the NT’s ambitions around Diversity and Inclusion in terms of gender equality, ethnicity, disability and sexuality, with a particular focus on the work we make on our stages and the culture change necessary to achieve it. Inspired by our work in casting, one of the major ambitions of this project is to improve the representation of d/Deaf and disabled actors on our stages, and thus ProFile was born.
We decided to build a database of tapes of actors from this pool for our own use, and to share them with our visiting creatives. In speaking to other theatres and casting directors about this idea, it also became clear that this could be a valuable resource for the industry, and thus we wanted to share it as widely as possible. It was at this point that Spotlight came forward to offer their invaluable support.
Actors register on the site, and then the Spotlight Studios and the NT, hold filming days where actors will come to perform one or two monologues, as well as any additional skills such as singing or playing musical instruments. The site is for professional actors, so actors need at least four paid professional acting credits, or proof of some commitment to training in the acting profession in order to apply.
For casting directors to recommend an actor to a director, they need to have seen them act – their skill as actors being by far the most important factor in the casting process. By using ProFile, casting directors can hopefully get a sense of who these actors are. We make it as easy as possible for casting directors to browse and book actors in for auditions; tapes are arranged by gender and age, and accompanied by contact details for the actor or their agent, as well as access requirements where relevant,
The site has been promoted to all of Spotlight’s film, theatre and TV casting contacts, the Casting Directors Guild, and over 400 contacts from the UK theatre industry – directors, producers, writers and a range of other theatre makers, and since its launch in October has had over 6000 visits from over 1000 unique visitors. The site is password protected, but access can be requested by any UK industry professional.
One day – when the industry is a level playing field, ProFile will render itself redundant as d/Deaf and disabled actors will get the range, quality and quantity of jobs they deserve. Until then, our hope is that it will get more of these talented actors through the door for auditions, and ultimately playing the range of roles they have the enormous potential to play.
For more information on ProFile, please visit www.profileperformers.com