CMU School of Drama

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Getting Specific: One Playwright’s Complicated Casting Choices

HowlRound: I’ve written and spoken a lot about being a Native American playwright. You can find my talk during the 2011 TCG National Conference about what it means to be “exotic” in theatre here. Or my previous HowlRound post on common issues writers of color face in the business here. Or my TCG Circle blog to non-Indigenous writers that want to tell Indigenous stories here. Unfortunately, an issue that just won’t go away for me is casting. In fact, it is getting worse, but not in ways I expected.


Jamie Phanekham said...

This is a truly interesting point. The people she's talking about, who disgrace even small theaters' miscasting of shows, include me. But this article is eye opening in that many important scripts that include Asian, Native American or Latino people simply aren't viable to do in many college and small theaters. The college production of Fasthorse's play is good. I think the fact that she worked on it with them, educating the white actors is good, and important, and the fact that they emphasized they were the wrong ethnicity is good. I'm glad it impacted the community positively, and I hope it informed the university that they need to try to have more people of color in their program.
But, I think that the problem with this comes when small theaters and universities choose to do these shows without properly informing themselves. The other problem is that they don't have these ethnicities, like Asian and Latino people, available to cast at universities because they aren't choosing them. It really is a complicated problem, and hard choices have to be made. Deciding whether to inform people on race issues, and casting the correct race shouldn't be a decision at all. But for now it is a difficult one.

Alexa James-Cardenas ( said...

Casting is definitely a very interesting and complicated debates that is has a lot of Catch-22s, and is overall just sticky. I must say I don’t think the debate will ever cease, nor should it, because that is progress, the ever-changing of opinions, ideals, and morals. Even when things get heated, 9/10 it will, it is important to discuss this. So as usually I’m going to give my own opinion, and of course these opinions could change with discussion, as I am human. I really think that in terms of specifics in race casting that while it is important to be according to the script, if the story has some sort of deep message, one that the theatre in questions truly believes that must be produced and as long as the actors, designers, and everyone involved has some if not a lot of sense of what that message is, it is more important to get that message out, rather than not doing it because you don’t have the correct type of person to do it. Especially when the theatre in question just doesn’t have the resources to bring in an actor of that specified race to be part of the production. Now with big time shows, like on Broadway, I feel like they, more than others, have of a responsibility to be more race specific or race inclusive as possible, because they do have the resources to find people.