Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Race-Conscious" Casting

A really interesting comment about the present and future of race and the stage from my friend Jack Tamburri who works at the Court Theatre. I wanted to be sure this came to light:

Color-blind casting is something Court Theatre has been exploring (and for which we were recently lauded by AEA). We have yet to (in my memory) cast a parent-child relationship without regard to race, but it's easily conceivable that we will at some point--sometimes the best actor for the role just makes a strong enough case for casting him/her in that kind of vacuum. After all, we don't spend a lot of time considering hair color or body type when casting related characters (we do consider it, but it's not a reason to cast an otherwise not-quite-right actor).

Personally, I think colorblind casting should be a mandate at any Equity theater. Most plays produced at that scale (especially at classics-based companies) are written by white men. If we want our productions to speak to modern audiences, shouldn't we make some effort to reflect that audience onstage?

I'm not saying "black audiences will only respond to plays with black actors in" or any other version of that silly canard. What I mean is, our world (the world of American cities, at least) is more diverse than ever, and it is the responsibility of theater artists to reflect and engage with that reality. That doesn't always mean "race-blind" casting so much as it means "race-conscious" casting--being aware of the valances and tensions you are injecting into your play when you cast across "traditional" racial expectations.

Interestingly, it is much harder to race-blind-cast plays that the playwright wrote with racial subtext or tension in mind, or that are set in a realistic period world (although the all-black Cat On A Hot Tin Roof worked marvelously due to the quality of the acting and actually added a fascinating layer of stakes for the family, when I expected going in that it would somehow feel preposterous in Williams's crumbling Southern aristocracy). Whereas a Latino Torvald or a South Asian Viola (with or without matching Sebastian) doesn't disrupt the dramaturgy of the play even a little bit.

The celebrity-casting issue is a whole nother thing. It is insidious and has basically destroyed Broadway as a place where interesting or surprising acting can be seen.

For a little more on Theater and Race check out the latest Cliché Watch. Also Check out Jack's upcoming show at the Neo-Futurists and his work with The Plagiarists.

1 comment:

Zev Valancy said...

An unrelated comment--I am going to a wedding tomorrow, and wearing a suit with a vest. Please forgive me!