Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Diversity in the Theater - Part III

Some time back, as I was standing on line to purchase tickets at a Broadway theater box office, I perked up when I overheard two women chatting about a Broadway play that I planned to see shortly - Tracy Lett's Pulitzer prize winning August: Osage County. Phylicia Rashad - a black actress - recently joined the cast to play the matriarch of a  (typically white) dysfunctional family. One woman (like me later when I later saw the play) had no issues when watching Ms. Rashad in the role of Violet; however, the other could not get over the color blind casting.  

On February 13th, David Henry Hwang moderated an Asian American Performer's Action Coalition (AAPAC) roundtable discussion at Fordham University. The purpose - To begin a discussion about making the theater more inclusive. According to the article - New York City Theater Community Convenes to Discuss Representation of Minority Actors - by Joanna Klimaski, the AAPAC released a report on minority casting on the New York City stage and here are some of the results layered with some census data:
% Casted
NY Census %
USA Census %
African Americans
Latino Americans
Asian Americans

While some progress has been made for African Americans (reminder - they've been struggling for years), little has been made for Latinos and Asian Americans - the two largest growing groups in America.

The positive - The AAPAC has started the conversation and that is how change begins. They ask - Why can't we all be just Americans? Why can't we have color blind casting?  I don't see why not. When Jean Doumanian, producer of August: Osage County, was asked by TONY magazine about the decision to cast Ms. Rashad, she simply replied, "Phylicia Rashad is a magnificent actress and that is what this decision was based on."

The negative - NYC theaters remain largely white owned, (I suspect) artistic directors are largely white, (I suspect) theater donors and members are largely white, and (I know) theatergoers (from Broadway League demographic statistics and from what I see every single week when I go to the theater) are largely white. This does not quite support the business case for why the theater industry should make any effort to be more inclusive.

What happens next? The conversation continues.

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