“There is not a single role in any one of my plays that must be played by a physically intact white person.”

I know this is the longest blog title ever, but I don’t care because it is awesome. It is taken from a casting note by American playwright Chuck Mee. The full note is here:

In my plays, as in life itself, the female romantic lead can be played by a woman in a wheelchair. The male romantic lead can be played by an Indian man. And that is not the subject of the play. There is not a single role in any one of my plays that must be played by a physically intact white person. And directors should go very far out of their way to avoid creating the bizarre, artificial world of all intact white people, a world that no longer exists where I live, in casting my plays.

My emphasis. I really like the mention that simply casting someone outside of dominant culture does not necessarily need to make some sort or directorial or dramaturgical statement. Audiences are far more intelligent than the theatre industry gives them credit for.

Mee’s note opened a recent Jezebel article about antiquated but still very prominent casting issues for actors of color. Writer Laura Beck cites some of the more recent examples at large venues such as La Jolla Playhouse and The Royal Shakespeare Company. I’ve talked about these incidences ad nauseam with my colleagues and friends so I won’t detail them here but please, please follow the link and read about them if you haven’t already. Most theatres state that they have a color blind casting policy. However, as Beck argues, it’s not really color blind casting if you are willing to cast White people in plays about Asian people, but are not just as willing to cast Asians in roles that are presumed for White people.

I really love this part, where she calls out the casting teams on their privilege and their relationship to universality and dominant culture.

The white men casting these three shows have never had to place themselves in other people’s shoes. Because most stories are catered to them, it’s possible they never had to develop the same imaginative flexibility the rest of us are continually practicing. You might assume that when an Asian man or woman walks in to audition for the lead, the casting people think “other”. They could wonder, “How will the audience access this story since they’re not a Chinese woman?” But in reality, many of us have been doing that our entire lives. It’s possible that this might come into play in casting, with the end result almost always being: You want it to be universal, you gotta cast white.

I’m more focused on pedagogical research than I am on the industry itself, but I will continue to highlight these articles because I feel the need to remind all of us who work in or are preparing students for this industry that we are kidding ourselves if we think that simply because we are artistic, creative, and progressive, that we are not affected by dominant culture and are not capable of disempowering others through our choices.

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