Recently, two trailblazing casting workshops took place on opposite coasts. In New York, the Casting Society of America organized a town hall conversation inviting transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming actors to dialogue with casting professionals and identify the roadblocks dividing them. In Los Angeles, CBS Entertainment Diversity ran a panel featuring trans talent and leaders in the casting field.
“This conversation [recognizes] that we have not done what we can to afford this population of actors access to opportunity.” David Caparelliotis, who serves on the CSA's Diversity and Inclusion Committee, said at the New York event.
The discussions demonstrated that casting directors are having a hard time finding gender-diverse actors. Actors are having a hard time finding auditions, agents, managers, and audiences. There is also a financial hurdle for many performers.Trans folks are likely to make less money than cisgender performers and have less disposable income for expensive acting lessons, head shot sessions, or casting website accounts. (Actors Access does offer actors a free account.)
Recently, there have been free workshops by SAG-AFTRA and a class for transgender actors taught by Transparent's Jeffrey Tambor. Caparelliotis launched the town hall conversation by stating the goal for casting directors is “to talk to the people who we hope to become better advocates for.”
“We’re acting 24/7 before we come out,” Ann Thomas, founder of Transgender Talent, said at the L.A. event. In addition to running the first-ever agency for transgender performers, she is a member of Trans Chorus L.A. and an actor who attended Tambor’s acting class for two years.
“[Tambor] said, 'We don’t need a lot of help, we just need a little bit of help, and get a little bit of experience and we’re going to be way ahead of someone in our similar age bracket,'” Thomas said.
Gary Marsh, founder of Breakdown Services, shared that a typical character description he sees when writers try to sensationalize their scripts is "a transgender drag queen."
"We get it all all time," added Russell Boast, vice president of CSA. "Producers are just like, 'transgender or drag queen, just bring us either.'"
Marsh and his team are working to break those barriers and have recently implemented a new feature where actors can self-identify as transgender on their acting profile. Casting directors can now search the database for transgender men and women. Soon the search button will include nonbinary. That check box doesn’t show up on the actor’s resume and the search capability is only available to professional CSA casting directors.
“It’s very important to protect everybody’s privacy, but try to maximize opportunity at the same time,” Marsh added.
In the face of various challenges, including discrimination against LGBT actors, there lies opportunity. Currently, there are financial incentives for productions that participate in a Diversity in Casting Incentive. A project can earn fiscal rewards for casting women, people of color, elders, and people with disabilities in speaking roles. LGBT people are not on the list. Without Hollywood offering any assistance, trans visibility will continue to suffer.
“The story of my life is ‘Get me an actor with a name.’ And to that I say, ‘Can’t we go with the best actor?’” Boast said.
Trans performers aren’t getting roles because they aren’t household names, but they struggle to build name recognition without getting roles. Several casting directors in New York said they've taken it upon themselves to submit diverse actors for a role without receiving explicit permission from the creative team. If a team says no to a trans person for the role, the casting director will open that conversation with “Why not?”
Thomas has several projects in pre-production, including one in which she plans to launch a new transgender actor in a lead role, by surrounding them with A-list talent in supporting roles. But all these changes start with giving someone a chance. Closing the L.A. event, Thomas added, "We need to get the word out to the right people to make a change."
Be part of the change by working with Transgender Talent.