CMU School of Drama

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Is it OK to cast a cisgender actor in a trans role? A D.C. theater just changed its mind.

The Washington Post: Though the casting change was news to Duquesne, the reasons for it had been building for months. It all began in the spring, when acclaimed D.C. actor KenYatta Rogers auditioned for the lead role in “Charm,” which tells the story of a 60-something transgender lady called Mama who starts a charm school for homeless transgender youth.


Taylor Steck said...

When I first read the title for this article, I was assuming it would be yet another story of offensive miscasting and was refreshed to read the opposite! Although some people may argue that as an actor, their job is to pretend to be someone else and therefor the concept of a cisgender actor playing a trans role should be fine, however, it's crucial to see how representation in the arts affects our society's preconceived notions of normalcy. Recently there have been similar issues when it comes to the problem of white washing a cast. This was seen in many films historically speaking, as well as ones that were recently released where white actors or actresses were playing roles of another race. With our media consistently only projecting one image of a specific type of person, it ultimately sets a baseline for what we expect to be "normal," and that anyone who doesn't fit this mould is inevitably left as someone who is flawed because of their differences. It's important for us as content creators to be conscious of this, and it's exciting to see this theater in D.C. taking the same initiative.

Megan Jones said...

It's so great to see that people's opinions on casting are becoming more progressive. The fact that this company was able to go back on their earlier decision in order to do the right thing shows that people are becoming much aware of the problems with miscasting. There are already so many parts out there written exclusively for cisgendered people that casting them in a trans role takes away an important opportunity for representation. Many people think that there just aren't enough trans actors out there, but I believe they're simply not looking hard enough. This theatre company has shown that they are dedicated to the trans community by expanding their search for actors. KenYatta Rogers, the actor originally cast, says in the article “I came into this process as an ally first and an actor second.” This is the attitude we should all approach our work with, and remember that doing what's right is more important than our pride.

Ali Whyte said...

I did think this was going to be another rant about what is right and wrong in terms of who should play who in a theatre, but I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism and casualness with which this article was written. I really like how this article was much more about a company realizing over the course of the process that they needed to change something because it was the right thing to do, even though it meant making some hard decisions and putting in some extra work. I think it is so so so important for people to see themselves accurately and respectfully represented in film, television, and theatre, and I'm so glad this company realized tha the best way to do this was to cast a person from the group which they were trying to portray. I think that the inclusion of the comment that the actress is not a real-life version of her character is an important addition. Acting is all about people portraying somehting other than themselves by learning about and understanding the character, but some things just cannot be understood fully by someone who has not actually lived through or been a part of them.

Lauren Miller said...

Please let 2017 be the year when we stop casting cisgender actors to play trans characters. I am disappointed that the Atlas Performing Arts Center was not aware of the trans community’s insistence upon representing themselves, but I am glad that the director was willing to look at the feedback and response they received from the community and, even though the rehearsals had already started, recast their main role. I am so happy that Duquesne will be given the opportunity to tell their story as well as the story of “Mama”. I am thankful that the previously cast cisgender actor was willing to step away from the role and put being an ally first. This show will be so much better now that it is inclusive. I hope that we continue to see theaters and films around the country continue this trend. I highly recommend watching Jeffrey Tambor’s Golden Globe acceptance speech for a more succinct and intelligent argument for stopping the casting of cis actors in trans roles.

Pics from CMU Drama