A petition started at Change.org and signed by leaders from Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Portland Center Stage, Steppenwolf Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and Theatre Communications Group (TCG), among other theatres, is asking the national theatre community to, “…end the harmful practice of white actors playing characters of color while using every opportunity at our disposal to level the playing field.”
By Robin Southworth
As the petition notes, “…there are stark and pervasive barriers to employment in our industry for people of color across all Equity contracts. From 2013 to 2015, 71% of principal contracts went to Caucasians, 7% to African Americans and barely 2% to Asian Americans.”
The petition references two specific theatres who have created controversy with their casting of certain shows.
At St. Louis’s Municipal Opera Theater (The Muny), in a production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (a compilation of the director’s works) a white actor was cast in the role of Tuptim (while the principle dancers were both Asian). According to the St. Louis Dispatch, on June 15th, about fifteen theatre artists, in St. Louis for a theatre conference, booed the performance because of the inappropriate casting. They were escorted from the theatre. During another sequence, white dancers played latino characters from West Side Story.
At American Players Theatre in Wisconsin, for their production of Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot, a white man was cast as a non-white character who passes for white. As the article notes, even though this particular role has been played by white actors before (including by the author, Fugard), it IS 2018 and we can do better.
Theatre organizations need to stop casting Caucasians in persons-of-color (POC) roles. I, personally, have no problem with the casting of persons of color in roles where skin color is not specified. Cast the right actor for the right part. Match the skills of the actor to the needs of the role
However, if the playwright wrote a role for a POC, how are we, as an audience, suppose to truly understand what the playwright was saying, if we are watching a person of a different skin tone play that role?
> Check the Change.org petition.
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