June 17, 2024

Influencing performance – should reality TV stars and influencers be cast in theatre roles?

Terence Rodia, Director of YOU Management, considers whether reality TV and influencers should be cast in live theatre roles, and what this means for traditionally trained acting professionals 

The casting of celebrities, comedians and soap opera stars in prominent roles is nothing new to theatre. From Julian Clary’s legendary ‘fairy godmother’ performances to more recent appearances such as David Hasselhoff in ‘Chicago’ and Cara Delevingne in ‘Cabaret’; the art of celebrity casting has long been used as a means to boost ticket sales and generate media attention. However, the rise of reality TV stars and social media influencers is set to add a new dimension to this age-old casting practice.

With influencers becoming the go-to source for many on what to wear, watch or do – the influencer phenomenon is set to continue dominating consumers habits. In fact, according to Traackr’s 2024 UK Impact Report, 63% of consumers stated that they are more likely to buy a product if it’s recommended to them by a social media influencer they trust.

Through recent casting announcements such as Amber Davies, winner of ‘Love Island’ in 2017, being chosen for the iconic role of Vivian Ward in ‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’, it seems, that theatre is just the next in a long line of industries beginning to explore the benefits of casting an influencer.

However, in such a highly competitive and hard to breakthrough market, this trend raises many questions and ignites the debate: Are influencers the best choice for theatre roles, and what does this mean for professional performers?

The influence of the influencer

There is no doubt that one significant benefit of an influencer is their ability to draw in a younger demographic. According to a 2023 Statista survey, 84% of UK Generation Z now follow influencers, with similar results [two-thirds] of millennials. With a large percentage of younger people following influencers on various social media platforms, casting influencers can help productions reach and engage with this key demographic effectively.

Additionally, there is much to be said about the benefits that influencers offer for increasing marketing potential. According to LinkedIn, 75% of people now use social media for purchasing advice. With followers in the thousands – some even in their millions – influencers have unlimited access to a large audience and following, at the click of a button, enabling them to reach people in the furthest corners of the world. Moreover, Matter Communications found that 69% of consumers admit that they trust and favour influencer recommendations, over information coming directly from a brand, making them an essential tool in promoting ticket sales.

By leveraging the influence and reach of these social media personalities, productions can significantly boost ticket sales and generate buzz by effectively promoting their projects on social media platforms.

Fear of a flop

While there is no guarantee of a ‘hit’ with any movie, TV show or theatre performance, there are, however, real concerns to be considered, from the impact of influencer and TV reality star casting on the quality of a performance.

Considering that most trained performing professionals have undergone 3 + years of intensive industry training and gained experience from climbing the ladder of roles –  from being dancer number 5 to the leading man – there is a lot of work that goes into being a professional-level performer.

While influencers may have a large following and public recognition, they may not possess the necessary skills and training to excel in a theatre role. This can result in performances that are lacking in depth and authenticity, ultimately detracting from the overall quality of the performance, hindering the reputation of the show and putting the production at risk of infamous critic reviews.

Although there may be concerns about the quality of performances when casting influencers in theatre roles, it’s important to acknowledge that some influencers and reality stars do possess a foundation of professional training. Take, for example, Amber Davies, who studied at the esteemed Urdang Academy in London before gaining fame on Love Island. Although this background might not be widely known, having an influencer like Amber in a leading role with an unexpected level of training can be a game-changer. Not only does it enhance the credibility of the production, but it also attracts both existing fans and theatre enthusiasts eager to witness the talent and skill these influencers bring to the stage.

Curtains up for trained professionals?

The practice of casting influencers in prominent theatre roles raises important questions about fairness and equality within the industry, particularly for trained professionals who have dedicated years to honing their craft.

It has long been established that theatre and entertainment, is a highly competitive market. Research from the Queen Mary University of London finds that only 2% of actors can make a living from the profession and that 90% are out of work at any one time – making the decision to prioritise celebrity or influencer status over talent and experience, contentious.

By casting influencers or reality TV stars in these roles, theatre producers risk undermining the integrity of the art form and sending the message that success in theatre is more about connections than skill.

Moreover, this approach may overlook the untapped potential of trained professionals waiting for their big break, who could bring just as much excitement and draw to a performance as an influencer. After all, even theatre royalty such as Sutton Foster and Kristen Chenoweth started in the industry as a ‘nobody’, and now productions featuring these leading ladies are instant sell-outs.

It’s a balancing act

When looking at the benefits and impact of influencers in theatre, it is best to strike a balance between drawing in new audiences and maintaining the quality of performances. While there is value in casting influencers and reality TV stars in theatre roles, it should not come at the expense of trained professionals. By casting a mix of both established celebrities and up-and-coming artists, casting directors can unlock the benefits and full marketing and talent potential of influencers and trained professionals.

When balanced correctly, this unique blend of performers can be the key to enticing and wowing spectators, fans and critics alike, providing each with the opportunity to shine on stage, while ultimately creating a richer and more diverse theatre landscape for audiences to enjoy.