The Problem With Celebrity Casting…

For years theatre and production companies have been casting celebrity talent to lead their shows.

It’s not a new trend by any means – I remember seeing Chicago the last time it was in the West End in back in 2006 with Ashley Simpson playing Roxie Hart – and it’s no doubt a trend that will continue.

I’m fully aware that as a producer the pressure is on to sell tickets and big names certainly do that, but celebrity casting is becoming increasingly problematic and a recent casting announcement has just affirmed the issue even more.

Yes, last week a celebrity casting that could only exist in 2018 happened.

A YouTuber…. starring in a play at the Southwark Playhouse. Eyeballs will certainly roll at that one.

Tanya Burr, who Wikipedia says ‘is best known for her fashion and beauty YouTube channel’, is probably a talented lady in many ways, but in regards to acting credentials she doesn’t have many.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 16.00.44
A production shot of Burr in character as Ella that she recently shared on her Instagram page.

Her being cast as the lead role of Ella in Boundless Theatre’s production of Confidence is not so subtle case of who you know not what you know, and it’s damaging to the wider theatre industry.

Burr’s acting talents may be up to snuff – although Twitter comments surrounding her recent cameo on on a US TV show don’t suggest this – but her YouTube credentials mean that almost certainly a whole cohort of actors have been ignored in favour of a well known face at the helm of a play, not necessarily someone of the best ability.

It’s a sad truth, fame sells, and as a small company aimed at young people, Boundless Theatre are probably thrilled at this opportunity to fill a theatre with teens, and who could blame them? But this probably isn’t the most positive the way to go about achieving that

Confidence will run at the Southwark Playhouse from the 23rd May to 16th June

If a celebrity headlines a production there is no doubt that their legions of fans will follow regardless and snap up tickets, often when they’re not truly sure what they’re signing up for.

This new audience you’ve just bought by casting a ‘somebody’ as a headliner will be a short term fix. They’ll come along, they’ll wait at stage door for their idol…and then you probably won’t see them again.

Another massively problematic part of ‘stunt casting’ – as a recent WhatsOnStage article has branded it – effects the wider acting community. Imagine if you had gone for that part?

This would certainly sting.

There are of course celebrity castings that do work spectacularly but often these stars have their roots grounded in the arts, for example, nobody would argue that Amber Reilly wasn’t worthy of her Dreamgirls part by any stretch of the imagination.

But there’s something about a celeb who previously hasn’t been tied to the arts at all landing a gig like this that has got people’s backs up.

A quick call out for opinions on this from my own Twitter account conjured responses like celebrity casting is the ‘scourge of the industry’ – people feel very strongly about this.

Hopefully Tanya proves us wrong and proves that she has the talent for this role, hopefully the legions of her YouTube fans visit the wonderful Southwark Playhouse and become fringe theatre converts.

I just feel a bit cynical this time.

But if you do want to see go and see for yourself, click here for tickets.


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