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Disrespectful Hiring Practices in Vancouver Theatre

by | Dec 13, 2023 | Review | 4 comments

This is a guest article by a young Vancouver actor who would like to remain anonymous. They are talking about their experiences and expressing their opinions. I am very grateful to them for sharing this articulate piece and I look forward to hearing feedback from others. – CT

They say theatre is the only art form that has been dying for 2000 years. Certainly it seems producing theatre in Vancouver has been an uphill battle: low attendance, high debt, and middling reviews. Here’s my hunch as to why: Vancouver theatre companies do not respect actors. Now that might be a bit of an exaggeration but after examining my experience as an independent actor here, I struggle to draw any other conclusion.

First, the gatekeeping of audition opportunities.

It truly does not get any more insular than ‘invite-only’ auditions. In fact, no company whose website boasts an Accessibility and Inclusion statement should be shoulder-tapping or pre-casting. I understand that a company many not have the resources to thoughtfully audition every artist who applies (although that is debatable in the era of self-tapes), but I believe every artist should be made aware of every job and have the opportunity to pitch themselves for consideration. The height of irony is that these organizations receive public government arts funding, and immediately turn around and conduct private hiring processes. I’m a devoted theatre goer; in an average year I see 30-40 plays and I can safely say the quality of work suffers for it. I’m sick of seeing all the same people resting on their laurels.

“But what about general auditions?!” Not only do generals feel like a lot of unpaid prep work for lip service consideration; they can be just as exclusive. It took four years of applying and one global pandemic for a certain site-specific Shakespeare company to finally agree to see this local theatre school graduate for a digital general audition. Not to mention many of Vancouver’s small companies do not host generals at all, but you can bet I will be receiving an invite to attend their AGMs.

Second, the lack of integrity.

Today I feel this particularly deeply as I just received a rejection for a self-tape audition that I can see via Vimeo’s analytics, has not been viewed. Unfortunate, sure, if this were an isolated incident. Sadly it is the fourth time I have experienced this. On one occasion, I emailed a company about a particular show in their season, and they recommended I apply to their general auditions. Upon informing them I already had, but my tape had not been viewed, they let me know that “since we received an overwhelming number of submissions [the Artistic Director] had to prioritize those sent by people whose work she hadn’t seen before.” Theatre auditions require hours of work: sourcing and reading the entire script, breaking down and emotionally prepping the sides, and ideally memorizing the lines and designing role-appropriate wardrobe. Sometimes an actor will also spend money on professional coaching and taping which can cost around $70 for a session.

It’s increasingly difficult to recommend Vancouver’s theatre community as a place artists will feel welcome and respected. I don’t write this to tear down people who have wronged me. I share these experiences because I care deeply about live theatre and I want this city to be a place where exciting theatre is thriving. I feel there is a hypocrisy between what the theatre claims to be: a place of inclusion, justice, and discourse, and our current practices.

I also feel I must give this feedback anonymously for fear of being labelled as “difficult” or “demanding” since I am entirely at the mercy of the powers that be. I know rejection is part of the job, I’m not asking to work more. I’m asking for the respect and curiosity in the audition process that auditors require from us in the rehearsal room. I believe this is vital to a healthy and vibrant theatre ecology.


  1. simon webb

    It’s a relief to read such clarity. Sad that anonymity is still the go-to for concerned commentary, and I get it – whenever I used to voice concerns, address problems, and (biggest of all) propose solutions, I was labelled a prima donna. Makes for some good stories, but not a good career, right? – Simon Webb

  2. Glen Cairns

    I hear this young actor loud and clear. It’s been a long time since I left the 8 x 10 glossy brigade but, to quote a cliche, the more things change the more they stay the same. 40 years ago I was making the same claims. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents. The theatre is now and always has been about relationships. That’s a foundational place to start. Back in the day a few of us started a weekly pub night at the old Arts Club on Seymour Street. Anybody remember Thursday Nights? It was a great place to meet new people, extend your professional contacts, talk about life, art, politics. It wasn’t an audition, but a lot of projects got created around the pool table in that smokey little bar. The mid-sized theatres came out to play, too – Touchstone Theatre always played well with the little guys. We felt locked out of the mainstream theatres, so we created our own – Fend, Dark Horse, The Coconuts, Pink Ink, Lee Van Passen and Dawn Petten and The Conservatory gang actually put together a really functional rehearsal space down on Richards Street – it wasn’t subsidized. We paid hourly rental fees to use it. Fend, under Paul Crepeau put together the 150 seat Station Street Arts Centre behind the old American Hotel and then added a 50 seat cabaret space. Paul was brilliant, and he’s gone too soon. The self-tape thing just makes me shake my head. I don’t get it. There are literally hundreds of actors with the right look, sound, skills and experience, to cast in any role in the country. The last time I played at CanStage’s Dream in High Park, 2,000 resume’s came in; 200 actors got auditioned and 12 got cast. The director was looking for actors with the kind of adventurous temperament to go along with a really out-there production concept – so, personal chemistry matters. The self-tape thing just seems to commodify actors; turn them into interchangeable puppets. Personally, I think theatres that use it are lazy and are depriving themselves of so many rich possibilities. How many times, over my years as a director have I cast somebody who auditioned for something else a couple of years back? Lots. Lots of times. We meet, we connect, we remember each other. If not this time, then maybe next time. My advice? Widen the net; meet people and, most importantly, fuck waiting for somebody else’s approval – create your own work. People do it every day.

  3. Rachel Aberle

    I’m the artistic director who didn’t watch that self-tape because I was prioritizing seeing people’s work who I hadn’t seen before. I know it sounds like a line, but in this case, it truly wasn’t. I knew this actor’s work pretty well at that point after having seen them for a few different roles over the years, and that self-tape process was in the winter/spring of 2021 when there were next to no theatre jobs, and people were starving for opportunity. When I say I was overwhelmed by the number of self-tapes, believe me, that was genuine – it was hours and hours of material to review during a time when the future of the entire industry was unknown and the amount of administrative work to keep things afloat was staggering. The reason I had that many hours of footage was because I was trying to do what this actor is asking for – open the door as wide as I could. It resulted in a deluge that I was not prepared for. I absolutely feel for the actor here who put work into a self-tape and felt like it was for nothing. It was the opposite of what I was hoping for when I put out such a wide call.

    As it happens, I did call this actor in for the show they expressed interest in (they were already on my list of people to reach out to in case they didn’t submit – again, because of how familiar I was with their work). They didn’t wind up getting cast, but not because they weren’t a worthy candidate – it was just a really, really tight race for the part. I hope they keep it at, I think they’re very talented – and from what I’ve seen, they are the opposite of difficult. That said I also want to speak to how incredibly over-taxed artistic leaders are right now. The burn out people are feeling throughout the industry is being felt at the top as well. I have had so many conversations with leaders who are hollowed out, aware of the huge systemic issues that need fixing, and also aware that they can’t do it fast enough for most people. Leading is a very lonely, stressful job right now.

    I feel free to say this all now publicly because it’s my last week on the job. (Remember the burnout thing? Yeah – it came for me.) I know how frustrating it is to be an actor that feels like they aren’t getting a fair shot – I started as an actor and gave up on some of the bigger dogs in town when I realized those doors were closed to me. I also know how draining it is to lead in this industry. I hope leadership and independent artists are able to weather the storm and see the humanity in each other as they go. Everyone is trying so, so hard.

    • Colin Thomas

      Thanks very much for writing this, Rachel. I was hoping to get some feedback, from the other side of the table.


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