Vlogging a dead horse: Casting YouTuber Tanya Burr in Confidence makes perfect sense

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Was the casting of YouTuber Tanya Burr in Confidence at Southwark Playhouse really such a big deal? Guest blogger Mary Grace Nguyen did some online digging before rushing to judge…

When the news broke that Youtuber Tanya Burr would be starring in Confidence at the Southwark Playhouse, Mark Shenton (who also co-founded MyTheatreMates) wrote in his column for The Stage:

‘If anyone with a big Instagram and Twitter following can be thrown into the lead of a play, what’s the point of real actors learning and honing their craft?’

Fair enough, I can see where he’s coming from. But now, I have to ask, is there a particular reason why the director Rob Drummer picked the vlogger to perform the lead role in the first place? Shenton notes that it will help fill seats with those, aged 15 to 25, who are more likely to be looking at Snapchat than checking out what’s going on in the theatre world. ‘It holds the key to theatre’s future,’ he suggests.

I’ve decided to do a bit of digging. I’ll do my own due diligence and head to the source, but, I’ll be frank with you, I don’t know anything about Judy Upton’s play Confidence. I haven’t seen it performed before, but I’ll go by this post by Alex Wood, which I gather came from a press release. Here it says Drummer said, ‘Rediscovering Judy’s play in the context of 2018 and looking at the legacy of ’90s youth culture is an exciting prospect. In the hedonism of the ’90s and the changing tide of political optimism did young people get what they want? For a new generation now, we want to see what has changed and why instilling confidence in young people to take up space and have a voice matters more than ever.’ Already, I’ve noticed how relevant the vlogger might be for this type of show.

Bearing in mind I haven’t done any research on the vlogger yet, I’m getting a sense of a crucial connection between the social media star and the play. The themes of present culture and new generation confidence get my head ticking and thinking about how the vlogger may know a lot about these elements through her daily routine. Plus, from going by what Wikipedia says of her, she’s 28 years old, so she’ll have an idea about the 1990s from her own experience – the era she grew up in.

The themes of present culture and new generation confidence get my head ticking and thinking about how the vlogger may know a lot about these elements through her daily routine

Now, let’s meet the vlogger Tanya Burr, who launched her vlog nine years ago in her Norwich bedroom. I’ve just had a look at her website and I’m actually impressed. I’m watching her talk about makeup on Youtube and it’s kinda interesting considering I’m not into makeup tutorials. Heading to her About page she tells us who she is. ‘Actress. Red wine & sausage dog lover. Find me talking about what I wear, products I love, travel & other random things here on my blog & on YouTube.’ What! Is she an actress? So, she’s not just a social media star. She actually has acting skills. Then, what was Shenton going on about?

Perhaps it’s not so much that she says she is an actress after all. Confidence is her debut performance, according to the press release. It’s more to do with the fact that there are actors out there slaving away, studying hard at performing art school when someone like Burr can come along and take away their chance of getting a lead role by spending hours perfecting their social media image.

But, may I point out the blue elephant in the room, please? Let’s not forget that there are plenty of acting skills required in becoming a successful vlogger. That includes planning, rehearsing, cutting, editing, and the ability to speak confidently and freely in front of a camera which is streamed to millions of viewers. Those types of skills are applicable to performing arts.

There are plenty of acting skills required in becoming a successful vlogger. That includes planning, rehearsing, cutting, editing and the ability to speak confidently and freely in front of an audience.

I don’t want to go as far as Shenon’s line with film and TV actors who were trained actors to begin with. Many of them have won film and television awards. Naturally, actors like Imelda Staunton, Kit Harrington, Christian Slater or Jude Law are going to put bums in seats, but that’s because their audience knows what they are getting and are willing to pay for it. It doesn’t matter if the production gets a five-star or two-star rating from the critics, the purchaser will get to see their favourite star.

Plus, you can’t compare actors like The Great Gatsby and Suffragette star Carey Mulligan to Tanya Burr, who has 3.16 million Twitter followers and more than 3.6 million followers on Youtube. They are both different types of celebrity, who pull different types of audiences. If the director considers Burr to be the ideal candidate to pull the audience he wants, then that’s on him.

Honestly, I don’t see what the big fuss is about. Burr was already practicing how to act, so clearly she does have a tie to the art form. It also mentioned on the press release post by Alex Wood that ‘Burr’s other credits include pilot series Making It and she plays the lead in the forthcoming short film Disconnect.’ So, she was working on her acting career in one form or other before it was announced she would be the lead in Confidence.

Just look at other actors who didn’t take the traditional pathway into acting, like Lily Cole and Cara Delevingne. There are many actors who didn’t train at Drama School and, let’s face it, there are many famous actors out there who succeeded this way. That’s not to put down those who are going to training academies and studying the traditional way because it does work, yet there are other routes into acting.

Seeing it from this point of view, perhaps Drummer will get the attention from the type of audience he wants from casting Burr. Now, can we just relax and let Burr have her time to shine, on stage?

Confidence is showing at Southwark Playhouse until 16 June 2018 

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Guest Bloggers on Twitter
Guest Bloggers
MyTheatreMates welcomes submissions from guest bloggers and other occasional contributors, including theatremakers commenting on aspects of their shows. Please email your suggestions to Mates co-founder Terri Paddock or submit them via our Contact Us page.