Act 2

Stereotyping, white washing and sexism – all discussed in Emma Jennings's short story about theatre.

“Okay, we have four male parts and one female!”

The hands went up. The eyes rolled. Every week. Every time. There were thirty females in the class and only ten males. The ratio, as normal, balanced completely.

“You two. You. And . . . you.” Two similarly handsome actors were selected, a thin pale boy and a man who had a voice like Brian Blessed. They all had connections within the theatre world. In fact the man was related to Brian Blessed. The pen hovered over us females, always waiting impatiently for our rare occasion to shine.

“And . . . oh.” The stage manager paused ­ hand mid-­air ­ and studied her clipboard with the intensity of a thousand suns. She flicked a couple of pages, working out the best solution to overcome this excruciating problem. We waited as she chewed her lip. I bet the female part wasn’t really a female. I bet it was a gender swap. Or better, the part of a dead body. The stage manager looked up and began to scan us one by one, a furrowed brow cast over her crow­wrinkled eyes.


“What is it?” A girl in front of me asked. Typically cast as the English Rose, her voice was crossed between Snow White and a confused fairy. The stage manager straightened up. “Okay, is anyone here mixed race?” She asked. Clearly this had never happened before.

“I’m kinda tanned,” one girl joked, holding up her hand. She gained some feeble chuckles before another girl flicked her head.

“Come on. We have a mixed-race female part here. Pocahontas style. Object of beauty . . . that sort of thing. Has to be slightly different skin tone. Preferably Indian­-ish. Or different.”

Unbelievable. The group started to turn their heads like meerkats, peering over at one another.

Until finally all eyes locked on me.

“How about Issy?” One girl pointed at me.

“You know i’m not actually Indian, right?” I replied.

“You’re up Issy!” The stage manager interrupted. “Okay, so everyone selected . . . here are the scripts. On stage in five. The rest of you get noting character—”

“­—intentions,” the English Rose added, rolling her eyes.

“Actioning,” another contributed.

“Leading body parts . . .” one guy piped up, winking.

“You know what to do,” the stage manager dismissed.

Five minutes later I made my way to the stage. I had always loved theatre since a young age. I remember watching my first play ­– a treat ­– a pantomime! And I remember being completely overwhelmed. I remember watching the colour and the flurry on stage and realised I was truly immersed in something special. It was so live and real and magical and I became utterly engrossed in another world. And Cinderella? Well, I was infatuated. As a small shy child, I was in awe of her confidence, her majestic appearance and the way she made people sigh and laugh around me. She was amazing. And how amazing to be able to influence people like that. Theatre gave the opportunity to express, no matter who you were, or where you came from.

As I moved up the stairs to the stage, the nerves kicked in as they always did. Every time I stepped onto the wooden boards I’d get a thrill. The feeling that anything was possible. It was silly, but the opportunity to become someone else had always appealed to me. I had always dreamed of it. To be a monster, a princess, a murderer, a cunning thief or a powerful politician. Something different. Something better.

I stepped onto stage and looked out at my fellow peers in the audience. When I first met them I was taken aback by their sheer confidence. They all appeared so comfortable. All born from heavy pockets. A door opened stage left and the director entered. The class chatter silenced as he pulled up a chair in front of the stage. It was time. They all looked up at me now, a sea of white stunning middle class people about to analyse my every move and action and speech. They really had no idea. They’d never performed in adversity. But actually, I felt the lucky one. How sad it was that most of them were unable to place themselves in my shoes. How many of them would actually question their character? I turned to my fellow actors under the lights of the stage and realised something. That here on these stripped boards, under the burning lights . . . there really was nothing but action and words between us.

Emma Jennings | emjen92 | website