Dozens of UK theatres make powerful pledge to only cast trans actors in trans roles

Royal Exchange Theatre

Dozens of the biggest theatres across the UK have promised only to cast trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming actors for trans roles.

More than 40 theatres and production companies – including London’s Royal Court, the Oxford Playhouse and the Royal Exchange in Manchester – have signed the trans casting statement. In the statement, the organisations have promised to “actively seek casting opportunities” for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people in “any role regardless of gender”, acknowledging that “they are currently underrepresented on our stages and screens”.

The theatres have also promised to “never cast” or “endorse a production that casts a cisgender person” in a trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming role.

The statement also asked performance venues and organisations to recognised that Black trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people “face the toughest barriers due to anti-Black racism” and “colourism”. The venues that signed the statement have committed to “challenging these issues through our casting”.

Trans actor and performance artist Mika Onyx Johnson told The Guardian that “visibility on screen and stage is all linked to how people are treated in real life”. They added: “I think the statement will lead to more people being able to get in the room and ultimately get more work.”

A report commissioned by the research department at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and authored by academic Robin Craig found “mainstream” theatres “rarely commission or host trans-led work”. The report added “explicitly trans roles are extremely limited”, and when these roles are present, “cisgender actors are regularly hired to play” such roles.

The companies who signed the statement have joined in the fierce debate across the entertainment industry on whether firms should cast actors who mirror the sexuality or gender identity of the role they portray.

Hollywood has a long history of casting cisgender people in trans roles. Hillary Swank played Brandon Teena in the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry, and Jared Leto won an Oscar for playing Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club.

Eddie Redmayne portrayed Lili Elbe, one of the first trans women to transition, in The Danish Girl. In April, it was revealed that a trans actress has been cast as the lead in the musical adaption of the film. Activists Jake and Hannah Graf also signed on as consultants for the project.