• Mary Woodward

    Thank you Ross for this powerful piece that confronts us boldly and ends with the best guidance:
    be inclusive in the dialog to learn what your theater is doing that’s
    slotting, tokenism, or dehumanizing and work backwards toward inclusion in
    every aspect of the theater. I get that to seek a formula, “an exact course of
    action,” is to name black bodies and black experience a problem to be solved.
    It reinforces rather than rips apart stereotypes. Here is one of many things I
    look forward to understanding in this inclusive dialog. If it is right to
    assume that many non-specific roles were written by white writers in the
    centuries that black writers have been underrepresented in theater, and if
    colorblind or nontraditional casting “is to strip away color and force a black
    person into a set of white ideals,” how then do we respect “these performers’
    life experience, blackness, and…identity” when casting into these white ideals?
    Is the mere fact of recognizing such unquestioned prejudices and assumptions are
    written into roles adequate to produce inclusion rather than the dangerous
    substitute of colorblind casting?

    • Ross Jackson

      Thank you so much for reading, Ms. Woodward. I appreciate that you find value and challenge in the piece simultaneously. To answer your question, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that casting black actors in non-specific roles is what strips the actors of their experience, blackness, and ()identity. I do, however, believe that the tactics we’ve chosen to use which give excuse to cast them in these roles (i.e., colorblind and non-traditional casting) do. Making the decision to cast a black person in a non-specific role for inclusive purposes is much different than casting a black actor in a non-specified role with the stipulation that their race is removed in the decision making process.

      In other words, it would be more acceptable cast the black actor in the role they’re perfectly capable of executing because they can do it, not because casting has removed who they are in order to substantiate their capability.

  • Anasuya Sengupta

    Ross, I’d like to thank you for your incredibly powerful piece – and what a way to kick off this set of conversations around equity, diversity, and inclusion! I’m wondering what you think the responsibility is of the *audience* is, in both accepting the status quo, and not being able to deal with difference. I’m thinking, in particular, of the kinds of conversations that do happen when – in the rare case, still – a predominantly black cast and/or playwright performs for a predominantly white audience. A recent example for me was in a powerful interpretation of August Wilson’s play Gem of the Ocean, in which an audience member at the end of the show said (possibly with all good intention) she hoped that young black kids see the show. Yes, they should. But the elision of responsibility also struck me – the play is really for those who do _not understand the politics and histories of being African-American, not necessarily for those who do. What can theatre-loving audiences do differently?

  • Anasuya Sengupta

    I’m smiling at that last remark, and nodding at everything else. Thanks for your wisdom and thoughtfulness, Ross. You’ve given us all a great deal to think about.