If you’ve seen any of The Avenger movies that have come out in the last couple of years you’re familiar with the character of Hawkeye. If not, then let me paint you a picture. In a crime fighting team involving a literal super soldier, a Norse God, an ex assassin who was trained by the KGB, Robert Downey Jr, and The Incredible Hulk, Hawkeye has a bow and arrow. He has no real super powers and we rarely see him in hand-to-hand combat. Hawkeye isn’t exactly the most memorable person on the team. Sure, he’s really good at what he does, but doesn’t Thor make him a little superfluous? Do The Avengers really need him?
When people ask me what I do in theatre I tell them, “I’m a young casting professional, who wants to be Chicago’s first openly transgender casting director.” I know: long winded, right? While I won’t technically be the first, I want to be the first who works full time for an equity Chicago theatre. I’ve been steadily working towards this goal for the past year (since I’ve been out of the closet), and I like to think this is attainable for me.
No one has ever told me my dream is impossible or that it’s unnecessary. Most people seem enthusiastic about the idea of a trans casting director. However, when I ask folks in the theatre community how a casting director can find a permanent job, most people tell me, “by getting lucky.”
It’s not uncommon for theatre companies to pay their actors and designers, but not their administrators. I’ve held casting positions where the majority of my job was database creation and management. If I’m creating a tool that the company will use for years to come, shouldn’t that warrant a stipend of some kind? If it’s not a project that will serve the company, then why even ask me at all? Many administrators are putting in years of work for Chicago theatres and not seeing a cent.
Since I came out of the closet I’ve encountered an increasing amount of directors who have asked me to help them hire trans actors, but are hesitant to hire me for long-term positions. No matter what your relationship to the subject matter is, everyone in the Chicago theatre community has “diversity” on their minds. More and more projects are including characters that fall under the trans umbrella and I am profoundly grateful for that. Meanwhile I’ve listened to cisgendered administrators sing the praises of actors in the trans community, while consistently misgendering them. This isn’t necessarily malicious, but it is a problem. It often feels as if theatre companies want their stages to look more diverse, but not their offices. Most casting directors feel responsible for the actors they recommend. I feel this particularly strongly about talent from the trans community. At this point in my career, I am expected to network, advocate, protect, and teach trans 101 to anyone who asks, all while being unbearably pleasant.
I was able to come out of the closet because during one of my internships someone in a leadership position told me that the theatre company would stand behind me if I chose to live authentically. One small conversation gave me courage and I’m never looking back. Although my goal has not yet been achieved I’m getting closer to it everyday. This year, on multiple occasions directors have exceeded my expectations for not only what they would pay me, but also how they would treat me.
The question is what’s next? How can we make this the norm?
If you’re someone who hires theatre administrators…
If you’re paying your designers and actors, find ways to pay us as well. Consider us members of your design team and collaborators. Our time is valuable, and much like Hawkeye, we have families to feed. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on an administrator who might not have had the advantages of someone from a more “privileged” background.
If you’re an actor from a minority community…
If you feel comfortable advocating for us, please do so. I promise we are advocating for you. I’m not asking you to lecture the person who hires you, but talk to your director friends about who they pay to assist them. The more of us there are in leadership positions, the more inclusive theatre can become.
If you’re a young theatre administrator…
I wish I had more concrete advise, but I’m new on my journey as well. I’ll say this: know your worth. I’ve heard of the triangle theory when it comes to actors, “the perfect gig is artistically satisfying, you’ll get to work with great people, and it pays well. Any two of these should be enough for any actor.” Let this be true for us as well. You are not expected to starve and your passion should bring you joy.
Keep your eye on the target, my fellow Hawkeyes.
Charlie Hano is a freelance casting professional. Most recently they were the casting director for BRUJOS, produced by OpenTV, and the assistant director of [Trans]formation with The Living Canvas. Charlie has worked in casting with Oak Park Theatre Festival, Victory Gardens Theater, The Runways, and many others. They graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a B.A. in Theatre in 2014.