Curmie is one of my favorite bloggers, and also a fellow stage director, a teacher, and a learned man with a keen understanding of ethics. As soon as I encountered the jaw-dropping story about the high school that cancelled its scheduled musical after a protest was mounted because a white student was cast in the role of the show’s Romani heroine, I knew it was in Curmie’s wheelhouse.
Here us Curmie’s Comment of the Day on the third topic in the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets:
Re #3: I’d seen this story a few days ago, but luckily for my sanity I had too many other things on my mind to contemplate too deeply what was going on in my old stomping grounds (I went to high school a little over a half hour from Ithaca, and spent four years in grad school at Cornell).
I’m not sure I agree with you that the school is supporting “per se racism,” but I do think the decision was equal parts stupid, repressive, and cowardly. Even if we discount your entire argument, Jack (and I don’t), we still left with this: the character is Romani. The fact that a POC actor played the role in the biggest production of this particular iteration of the story doesn’t change the fact that many Romani are indeed white. What they definitely aren’t is black, although one suspects that casting such as actor in the role would have been at least condoned if not applauded. And if I’m identifying the complaining student correctly, she is far from the body type one would associate with the role.
But does body type really matter? Sometimes. Does race? Sometimes. Does gender? Sometimes. This director apparently cast the actor who, taking everything into account (as you say, Jack) promised to help the show the most. I’m currently working on a production of Max Frisch’s Biedermann and the Firebugs. For one role I cast a big muscular guy because that’s what the role requires: someone who can be physically intimidating. A fair number of 5’8″, 145-pound men auditioned; none were even considered for that particular role. For another part, I cast an African-American woman in a role obviously originally played by a white man. Why? Because what I really need is a singer, and she was the best one available. That’s the way it works. Directors cast the actor they believe to be best for the role. Might there be racist directors who base decisions on inappropriate criteria? Of course. Is there any evidence that’s what happened here? Nope.
Season selection and casting have indeed favored whites and men to far too great a degree for far too long, and the profession needs to address that issue more vigorously than it has. This does not mean, however, that casting a white actor in a role that can perfectly plausibly be played by a white actor is wrong, much less inherently so.
Want to get cast, or cast in a better role? Be better. Actors often thank me for casting them. I tell them I did so entirely out of self-interest: I cast the most talented actors, the ones who’ll work the hardest, the ones who show a particular affinity for a particular role… in short, the ones who will make me (and my work) look the best. I do love it when ethics and self-interest converge.