No more ladies and gentlemen in gender‑neutral theatreland The Sunday Times 03.11.19

The original article is here.

For decades, “Ladies and gentlemen, please make your way to your seats” has been the way theatregoers have been gently coaxed back from the bar for the second half .

However, the curtain is coming down on this particular expression in an attempt to go gender neutral.

Last week Equity, the trade union that represents actors and entertainers, released its new guidelines for people working with LGBT performers. Venues are now being encouraged to adopt “gender neutral terminology for collective calls, both front of house and backstage”.

Last night the National Theatre, which supported Equity in producing the guide, said that it was still using “ladies and gentlemen” in some of its announcements but would make it a priority to phase the words out.

A spokeswoman said: “We do not use ‘ladies and gentlemen’ back of house and this is being phased out in our front-of-house announcements.”

Some LGBT campaigners argue that phrases such as “ladies and gentlemen” are outdated and inappropriate for people who identify neither as male nor female but instead as non-binary such as the singer Sam Smith who uses the pronouns they or them.

The Equity guide also advises against complimenting an actor on their voice or calling them “brave”.

“Avoid backhanded compliments or ‘advice’ regarding to appearance, clothing, voice quality, identity or the performer being ‘brave’,” it says.

In response to the publication of the guide, the Royal Shakespeare Company said that it would undertake a “comprehensive review” of its front-of-house procedures, including “all announcements, signage and the introduction of some gender-neutral facilities”.

A spokeswoman added that the company welcomed the Equity guidelines and said it would “strive to create environments which welcome and support trans people and people who identify their gender as fluid”.

The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, central London, also confirmed that it still used “ladies and gentlemen” when speaking to the audience, but said it would now “carefully consider the latest guidance from Equity”.

Sadler’s Wells, the theatre in north London, and the Barbican Centre in the City, both say they have now removed gendered phrases from their public address systems.

Nica Burns, a co-owner of Nimax Theatres, which controls six of the biggest West End venues, including the Apollo and the Garrick, said they have also begun to change and often opt for a simple “good evening” or “welcome”.

She said: “Coming to the theatre is a shared and communal experience in one single auditorium and we want to please our audience and give them a great evening. We wouldn’t want anyone to feel offended or annoyed.”

Burns also said that in recent productions in her theatres, on the first day of rehearsals the company members are asked to introduce themselves and to self-identify with the pronouns by which they want to be known.

Equity’s advice follows a change made by Transport for London in 2017. It dropped the words “ladies and gentlemen” from its announcements and substituted phrases such as “good morning everyone”.

As to what should be done about renaming Shakespeare’s play Two Gentlemen of Verona, however, the Equity guide is silent.

@GrantTucker