When striving for gender balance in a play: What is more important, balance among the characters or among the actors? (Given that all characters are written as individuals, and not as stereotypes.)
Background (if needed):
This is a question that came up when deciding characters for a student project. We are writing a play and after the writing is finished we cast who plays what character (The actors are not chosen among the writers, but from a larger pool of students.)
In previous years, the characters have been 50% of each gender or off by one (if there were an uneven number of characters), but with little or no consideration given to gender when casting. (Meaning that, every year, there are some actors who play a character of the opposite gender, depending on what character is most suitable for that actor.) Since there are closer to 75% males at school, the gender balance of the actors have never been even.
This year a theme was proposed that gave little room to female characters to exist or have a substantial role.
Some of the writers argued that this was a bad thing when striving for gender balance, since females would be underrepresented or in the background.
Others in the group argued that it was the actors' gender that mattered, and that raising the question about the characters gender was a step back for gender equality since we would make gender an issue.
Update (one year later)
We decided to do the theme with few female characters and here are some observations, in case someone has a similar situation in the future.
- Several that have been part of the project over several years had longed for this theme. They (and others) got exited and had fun with the theme.
Not everyone that only wanted to play a female character could because of the lack of these. We told them this and some of the actors changed their choice to 'indifferent'. In the end only one actor that really wanted to play female couldn't but he states that he is happy anyway.
We got some negative feedback that can be summed up as degrees of "all student theatre projects [at this school] are sexist". (We are the only project of this kind that allows both female and male participants, the others are only male or only female, not sure what they would do if a non-binary person applied.)
Sidenote: Some also was disappointed that we had only characters with binary gender and hetro sexuality (we have had a few characters previous years with non-binary gender or non-hetro sexuality). This was also a direct result of the theme. It was not raised in the question here though.
- This years new students (the ones that saw the play spoken of and decided whether or not to apply to this years play) was about the same number as previous years, and the gender ratio is about same as well. I hope this mean no one was deterred to apply because of last years female-light theme.