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Why White People Can Dry Their Hamiltears.

An article by Sara on the ‘Non-White’ Hamilton Controversy, published on the media site, Gradient. Read it and weep.

Hamilton has no responsibility to hold colorblind casting. The show itself is not colorblind… it would change a fundamental part of the show’s message. But more importantly, it would show actors of color around the world that white privilege has once again manipulated the industry to feed its own needs.”

 

6 Reasons Why I Love Stephen Adly Guirgis

Over the hurricane break, I caught up on my reading. And as the oncoming storm threatened to take over the city, I officially finished the entirety of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ published plays.

He is beyond awesome. Here’s why:

1) He is a master of the English language. His prose is exciting, raw, and poetic. His dialogue is a perfect blend of the beautiful and obscene. Want to see it in action? Read Boochie’s monologue in Den of Thieves.

2) The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.

3) Oh, you wanted me to elaborate? Okay, this play is one of my favorites. Ever. Last Days imagines that Judas’ case of betrayal is finally put to trial, with Sigmund Freud, Mother Teresa, and many other witnesses–biblical and otherwise–testifying and appearing in flashbacks. Last Days is the ultimate dramatization of justice. Judas’ final scene with a certain savior is so poignant it hurts. Andrew Lloyd Webber, read ’em and weep.

4) Guirgis reinvigorates life into the contemporary American play. You won’t find too many overwrought scenes taking place in living rooms in his plays. Guirgis places his characters in motels, funeral homes, basements, bars, correctional facilities, hospitals, and the afterlife (and there are a few living rooms, too). He creates fully realized worlds and isn’t afraid to populate his plays with larger casts of characters. Guirgis’ delicate balance of tragicomedy makes him able to tell a story with brilliant humor and heartbreaking depth. When you’re in a Guirgis play, there is never a dull moment.

5) His New York is for the natives, a refreshing take from all the white twenty-something newcomer to the city narratives. From the displaced-by-Disney Times Square denizens of In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings to the grieving, fractured Harlem community in Our Lady of 121st Street to the Bronx hospital workers in The Little Flower of East Orange, Guirgis’ diverse cast of characters occupy a very real, very special part of New York City.

6) Speaking of diverse, Guirgis is not afraid of protecting the integrity of his plays–even when it’s controversial. When a certain theatre not far from New York City cast young white twenty-somethings to play Puerto Rican thirty-somethings in a seemingly case of cronyism in one of Guirgis’ plays, Guirgis responded on his Facebook page with “headshaking anger.” In an author’s note to the Dramatists Play Service edition of The Motherf@*ker With The Hat, Guirgis wrote,

“This play and all my plays have the best chance to come to life fully when they are cast as MULTI-ETHNICALLY as possible… please strive to cast the play overall in a manner that reflects the beautiful melting pot that is New York City and the setting of this play. And all that being said, the play is now yours, and these characters authentically belong to whoever has the heart and emotional generosity to claim them.”

Guirgis not only sheds light on a very troubling aspect of contemporary theatre, but offers hope for the future. And it’s f@*king amazing.

Is the Royal Shakespeare Company Racist?

The internet has blown up in recent hours about my favorite British theatre company, the esteemed Royal Shakespeare Company. They decided to produce a centuries old classic Chinese play The Orphan of Zhao, which takes place in historical China–the Yuan period, to be exact. The company did so with a very diverse cast–so diverse that the leads were white, and the 3 Asian actors that were cast (out of 17 total actors) play dogs and a maid.

The Fairy Princess points out oh so brilliantly, the RSC whitewashed this classic Chinese play set in historical China, then proceeded to market on their website (to potential Chinese audience members in Chinese) with the following poster:

So we already have some well worn racist tropes here: white washing, yellowface, etc. — in spite of the fact that the artistic director, Gregory Doran, really wanted an authentic production, even going to modern-day China to be as authentic as possible, for an authentic production in every way–except to cast Asian actors in leading roles.After the backlash occurred, the RSC put a statement on their Facebook page to explain the “Twitter debate.” Since they were casting a repertory season with rotating actors, it was necessary to have a group of actors who would fit right with all the shows that season. First off, the assumption that a large number of Caucasian actors could play historically-accurate Chinese (and Caucasian of course), is there.  And naturally, the talent wins out: the actors they chose were the best possible. We’ve seen that argument again and again (just put Jennifer Lawrence in a wig to play a darker skinned girl–she was an Oscar-nominated actress!). The RSC rehashes that sentiment, saying, “We cast the best people available for the range of roles required.”That may be true, as there are a huge amount of talented actors out there who could play any role with dignity and grace.  But while this philosophy goes unchecked for white artists, artists of color don’t get the same distinction. In a hypothetical Western revival of Amadeus, you wouldn’t immediately think of an actor of Indian descent to play the Austrian Mozart. And as a community of artists, writers, theatergoers, and critics, we have to understand that this construct exists, that it is an artificial one rooted in racism and privilege, and we must constantly work to address it.

Such an address is not “moaning,” as one Facebook commenter wrote on the RSC page, but an honest appraisal of how we make art be as meaningful as it can be. This of course, is by no means easy. It’s hard to chuck one’s privilege out the door, and recognize one’s mistakes, no matter how well-intentioned. It’s especially upsetting since the RSC has a long history of “non-traditional” casting, with actors of Asian and African descent playing leading roles in productions of  The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and many other Shakespearean plays.

They even cast a two-hearted extra-terrestrial in a West End production of Hamlet to play the eponymous tragic hero.

Gallifrey finally getting represented in Western drama.
Even more importantly, we need to be aware of this disparity as people. The RSC said in their statement that the  “multi-cultural make-up of our winter season company reflects British society.” This is how the art-reflecting-life continuum comes into play. If we have these conflicting views about race in our theatre, then it is even more crucial an issue in our lives beyond the stage.

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