While issues of casting and diversity in theater have likely always been around, several recent controversies in 2015 have led to a new crop of discussions about casting white actors in ethnically-specific roles.
This year alone, issues arose after the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players released promotional materials for The Mikado that used yellow face, Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop was cast with a white actor playing Martin Luther King, Jr., and Llyod Suh’s Jesus in India was cast with two white actors and one mixed-raced actor playing roles specifically written for South Asian characters.
In light of these controversies, playwright Marisela Treviño Orta and I began brainstorming one night on Facebook about how Café Onda and the Latina/o Theatre Commons could intervene in this discussion. We asked the following questions to 5 Latina/o playwrights: Magdalena Gómez, Irma Mayorga, Marisela Treviño Orta, Elaine Romero, and Martín Zimmerman.
Should Latina/o roles be cast with non-Latina/o actors? How do you approach productions at colleges and universities when your play calls for characters of color but the acting pool at the university may or may not have the actors? How are you thinking about casting?
The responses that we received are rich in their content, diversity, and style. It’s worth checking out the essay for Magdalena Gómez’s poem, “Casting Call,” alone. Here are a few teasers:
“I’ve been fortunate enough to see university faculty lead efforts to diversify departments by programming work they needed to go outside their known actor pool to cast. These faculties just firmly believed they would find good actors of color to fill those roles if they worked hard enough. And 100 percent of the time they found those actors of color.” — Martín Zimmerman
“Can my work be done at a university level without causing harm? And by harm I mean perpetuating brown face?” —Marisela Treviño Orta
Please visit Café Onda for the entire essay and to add your voice to the discussion!