Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Studies in Theatre and Performance

For a Special Issue on

Casting and Identity

Manuscript deadline
01 September 2023

Cover image - Studies in Theatre and Performance

Special Issue Editor(s)

Sara Reimers, University of Bristol
[email protected]

Kirstin Smith, [email protected]

Submit an ArticleVisit JournalArticles

Casting and Identity

This special issue focuses on casting and the ways it has imagined, represented, manifested, and deconstructed identity. Analysis of casting offers a specific purchase on the representation of identity and its reception in performance forums (an “index of identity” in Brian Herrera’s phrase (2015)), as well as in the material conditions and labour that create them.


Identity might be understood as a naturalized social construction, in relation to vectors of oppression, Judith Butler’s theorisation of discipline, and commodification of self and others. It could be seen, as in Randy Martin’s work on dance and financialization, as ‘an attribute of self that gets bundled, valued, and circulated beyond an individual person’ (2012) or, through Jasbir K. Puar’s theory of debility and capacity, ‘not as essence, but as risk coding’ (2010). Identity might also be framed by Joseph Roach’s concept of ‘surrogation’, whereby it might  be connected to ritual, cultural memory, and its performance via a ‘succession of stand-ins’ (1996). More recently, identity has been viewed in conjunction with experiential and embodied knowledge, resistance, community, solidarity and liberation.


This special issue explores movements towards representational justice and equity in performance, and attempts to recognise, challenge, and unpick entanglements of commodification and oppression in casting and their consequences for the consideration of identity. What does casting reveal about how bodies are expected to mean in a given context? In particular, the issue seeks to analyse ways in which casting has been utilised as a radical practice, as an anti-racist, gender non-conforming, anti-ableist, queer and/or feminist tactic, and as a peculiarly visible, and at the same time occluded, instance of hiring. How can and has casting been enacted in ways which disrupt, as well as enact, discriminatory paradigms? What is involved in the labour of casting and being cast, and what are its ethics? Such resistant practices might operate within, or attempt to move beyond, a framework of liberal subjectivity.


While the issue seeks to examine representational justice, it also takes seriously the capacity of performance in general—and systems of casting in particular—to question, destabilise and express the contradictions of identity and personhood, through embodiment, parody, surrogation, doubling, entanglement, imitation, notions of transcendence, appropriation, abjection, estrangement, deconstruction, and play (among other modes). To what extent does casting reveal the ‘not-not’ qualities of identity through the ‘affecting surplus’ of performance in a casting process, which does not quite belong in — and can even disrupt — the order of representation (Schechner, 1985; Bayly, 2002)?


Casting has come to scholarly attention in the last two decades, predominantly in the United States. Ayanna Thompson, Brandi Wilkins Catanese, Angela Pao and Brian Herrera have problematised the dominant transformational paradigms which emerged in the mid-twentieth century in relation to race: ‘non-traditional’ and ‘color-blind’ casting, as well as revealing histories of (mis)representations of Latinx, African-American and Asian people. Herrera has theorised the 'mythos of casting’, arguing that discourses of casting deploy notions of equity, meritocracy, creative autonomy and mysticism in a manner that works to conceal, and provide ‘ideological rationale’ for, ‘how an actor’s labor is (and is not) valued as a commodity’ (2015). Cross-gender casting in contemporary Shakespearean performance has been examined by Elizabeth Klett (2009) and James Bulman (2007), while Amy Cook (2018 and 2020) has utilised perspectives from the cognitive sciences to interpret the social meaning of casting and creating a character.


Building on an Association for Theatre in Higher Education conference panel in 2016, Claire Syler and Daniel Banks created Casting a Movement: The Welcome Table Initiative, seeking to mobilise a ‘social movement’ embracing ‘access and representation’ (2019). In the UK, campaigns to challenge and change exclusionary, stereotypical, and limiting casting practices have been spearheaded by Equity, Casting Directors’ Guild, Act for Change, and the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity among others. A special issue of The Stage guest-edited by Naomi Obeng and Emmanuel Kojo addressed the entrenched racism of mainstream theatre criticism and its impacts on artists of colour (2021). Jami Rogers’ 2021 report, Race Between the Lines, revealed widespread racist stereotying experienced by actors in the UK. In parallel to this, scholars have sought to examine casting in a UK context, with its distinct performance ecologies, institutions, colonial history and present, forms of discrimination, and entanglements of nation, heritage, whiteness, and Shakespeare. Controversy concerning the casting of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Orphan of Zhao in 2012 was analysed in depth by Amanda Rogers, Ashley Thorpe, Broderick Chow and others. Katie Beswick critiqued embodied representations of class and race in a National Youth Theatre ‘social inclusion actor training’ project (2018). The history of racially integrated Shakespearean productions in the UK was examined by Rogers (2022). There is much still to be explored in casting, which usually eludes archival documentation and expresses unspoken assumptions about embodiment, representation, labour, and equity, in the past and present.


We are interested in a broad spectrum of casting practices, from performance forums—amateur, educational and professional—to broader systems of profiling and surrogation, as they intersect with performance. Authors might consider, for example, the adoption of ‘audition’ practices in wider employment structures, profiling within education or judicial systems, the operations of identity signifiers in algorithmic or AI technologies. As much of the existing research into casting examines the US and UK, analysis which centres other locations, cultures, and languages is particularly welcome. Creative and critical pieces are both welcome, as is the use of video and image. Scholarly articles can be up to 8000 words. We are open to collaborations and dialogues.


Submissions might address:

  • the labour of casting and being cast
  • casting and access to work;
  • casting as cultural documentation;
  • antiracism in relation to casting;
  • critical disability studies perspectives on casting;
  • reception of casting choices among audiences and critics;
  • theorisations of casting;
  • ethical practices in casting;
  • casting in educational and amateur contexts;
  • practices of casting in specific forms or genres (opera, pantomime, adverts, musicals);
  • casting children/animals/objects;
  • casting devised productions: questions of ownership;
  • historical practices and historiographical approaches to casting;
  • the use of casting practices in other fields of work;
  • spectacularisations of casting;
  • casting and/as dramaturgy.

Please send submissions to Sara Reimers and Kirstin Smith at [email protected].