Today I want to discuss the topic of stunt/ celeb casting in theatre so please pass me a ladder so I can get myself up onto a fence because I don’t really have a clear side on this. Sometimes it’s necessary, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the celeb is fantastic for the role, sometimes they’re not.
Usually celebrity casting is done in theatre to keep the show running. Most of the time, investing in theatre is a really risky affair. A lot of shows lose more money than they make and it’s not uncommon for shows to close early or sometimes not even happen at all when the ticket sales aren’t looking great. Oftentimes, the show itself, even if it is a well-known show, isn’t enough to guarantee strong enough sales figures so casting a celebrity in one of the roles (or multiple celebs in multiple roles) is a handy way to get a few more seats filled. This means some amazing shows that don’t have the advantage of being well-known already or have missed out on awards, don’t lose their audiences to other shows that are sustaining their popularity. Which, also means that if the celebrity casting can keep the show open, the people working on that show get to keep their job. This also means that there are plenty of cast and crew members who could be getting their big break in theatre world and are getting to keep a job for a significant period of time (which can be unusual for some people working in theatre. For some, moving from one project to the next with periods of unemployment is common) because the celebrity casting is keeping the show running and therefore benefitting the rest of the team working on it.
Except, when you think about how that role is now unavailable for aspiring actors and actresses who have trained for to work in theatre and are potentially missing their chance to get a leading role that could see their career take off. Plus, sometimes the stunt casting is done purely to bring in a ‘name’ regardless of whether they’re the ideal fit for the role or not. Working in theatre is hard work, I don’t think you need to be a professional actor to see that (I’m certainly not!). So, it can be really noticeable when someone on the stage doesn’t really have the skills or training required to be there. This then can make the show suffer in its storytelling and can be especially annoying for anyone who is more of a fan of the show itself than the cast in it.
The other issue with celebrity casting is when the celeb has a day off and the understudy fills in for them. Now, I am a big advocate for celebrating understudies. They work incredibly hard and nearly every time I’ve seen an understudy perform, they have been amazing. So, when the understudy goes on for the celeb role you’d hope the audience would appreciate they’re seeing the show and support whoever is playing the role. But, unfortunately, not everyone thinks that way. I’ve heard really nasty things said by disappointed audience members who are there to see the celeb but see the understudy instead. Ergh. I swear, people that hate on understudies are worst people in theatre and celeb casting can make these people even worse for moaning and causing a negative atmosphere. This really is another topic for another time though.
Overall, celebrity casting is not always a bad thing. Sure, sometimes the celeb clearly wasn’t the best choice for the role and it’s kind of annoying to see the part being taken away from someone who could have done it better but equally sometimes the celebs are brilliant and manage to keep the show open by increasing ticket sales. As I said at the start, I’m really on the fence about this but would love to hear your thoughts.
Also, this post was totally inspired by all the drama that’s been going down at Waitress in London and I just want to say another issue with stunt casting is when there’s fantastic actor or actress in a role but then suddenly they’re dropped from the production for a few months to bring in a celeb*. Not cool. #JusticeforLauraBaldwin!
*No hate to Ashley Roberts though, this situation is definitely not her fault and I wish her all the best for her run as Dawn.