My attention has been drawn recently to two essays by college students, both presumably sent to me on the theory (or hope) that reading them would kill me. The first, published in the Drexel Triangle (the student paper), argues that stage directors should be prevented from casting actors who look the way the playwright envisioned them. The second, published in the Harvard Crimson, makes an even more disturbing assertion: its author asserts that Harvard should stop guaranteeing professors and students the right to advocate controversial views or pursue research that challenges liberal views and assumptions.
I don’t want to devote the bulk of this post to rebutting these two essays, which are, I think self-rebutting. In the theatrical essay, student actress Alyssa Stover argues that a stage director shouldn’t have the right to decide that, say, casting an Asian dwarf as black boxer Jack Johnson in “The Great White Hope” would lead to a less effective production (that is my example, not hers—she objects to a director of “Cabaret” refusing to cast African-Americans as a matter of historical accuracy):
“These arguments are fundamentally flawed. What the audience wants is almost impossible to measure because the “audience” is composed of anyone who can get a ticket. A director or producer’s right to deny someone a role due to their appearance is debatable because this is a judgment based on one person’s preferences and may not actually create something that is stage worthy. The current status quo allows people to be barred from the stage due to physical “flaws,” as determined by the direction. These judgments are not harmless, and when the issue of race is involved, the problem only gets bigger.” Continue reading