March 28, 2016

About two weeks ago there was a bit of an uproar in the Chicago theater community as another major theater committed yet another casting faux pas by casting a mostly white group for a production of Evita.

 

For those of you who might be unaware, Evita is the musical version of the story of Evita Perón the wife of Juan Perón, the President of Argentina.

 

As most of you might know, Argentina is a country in South America full of Argentinians. Argentinians are what many people call “Hispanic” and as such are typically, not white.

 

Even this word document knows that Evita and Perón are not “English” words, showing a red underline as if to say “You aren’t from around here, are you?”

 

No, Microsoft Word…Evita is not from around here. And just because the big brassy vocal chords of Patti LuPone sang the shit out of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina on Broadway in 1979 (It’s ok, it was the 70’s and weird stuff happened back then) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and add a little color to productions in the 21st century.

 

For the record, it’s been the Brits who have cast actual Hispanic actresses in the role of Evita… I’m pretty sure we didn’t kick face in the revolutionary war just to have the Brits beat us in inclusive casting. (USA! USA! USA!)

 

I could go on about the lack of representation in theater of people of color, and believe me there will be ample opportunity for me to comment on the lack of diversity on stage, even in productions like Evita that are ABOUT ANOTHER COUNTRY WITH LOTS OF BROWN PEOPLE!

 

But I won’t…at least not any further than I already have.

 

What I want to talk about, is the apology. Or rather, the apology. (I love the sarcasm button in Word…)

 

This theater responded to the criticism they received by saying something to the degree of “It’s written on our casting call that everyone is welcome regardless of race, gender or otherwise”.

 

Which is really nice until you consider that such a statement is a legal requirement. Because, you know, you really can’t exclude people based on their race anymore. Its taboo and generally a shit thing to do.

 

The next thing that was said is that there just “weren’t many people of color who auditioned”. So you’re saying you went to New York City to cast and happen to be 30 minutes outside of Chicago and couldn’t find people of color to audition? Wow. Were we all on vacation? Was it during our siesta? Traditionally, we hate to have to do anything during those so it’s possible that we just didn’t see the audition notice.

 

Or, and maybe I’m stretching this a bit, the reputation of the casting practices of that theater preceded it and people decided not to waste their time coming out to audition knowing they’d never get the part.

 

When you consider the current casting tendencies of major theaters, saying “we welcome everyone” is like expecting people of color to walk into a restaurant that just the other day had a “whites only” sign and be like, “Oh, I bet they are totally cool with us now.”

 

Ok so that’s a bit of a stretch, but you understand what I mean. The problem goes further than just saying “Oh man, we really want everyone to come out and audition” and POOF, you’ve got a diverse cast telling colorful (no pun intended) stories to an equally diverse audience.

 

Unfortunately, it takes more than that. It takes work, it takes dedication and most importantly, it takes guts. The creative team, theaters, casting directors, artistic directors, etc., need to be willing to push the envelope and allow themselves to see past their own creative vision in order for us to ever get to the aforementioned point.

 

To be clear, this is not something specific to theater. Companies all over the world are realizing they are not as diverse as they can be and that it’s something that needs to be dealt with.  The solution is not to just bring in people, it’s to bring in a new mentality as to how to approach hiring. A Company has to make a decision to expand their minds when it comes to hiring, take chances on people who might not have as much experience but who could bring a new vision or mindset to the company. Look for new recruitment areas and take the jobs to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

 

If you have that approach, even if you don’t find a candidate that ticks off all your boxes, you can feel confident that you’ve given it a good shot. And really, what else can you do?

 

No one is asking for a handout here. No one expects to be cast or hired just because of the color of their skin or their gender or for any reason other than their skills or talent. That breeds animosity from others and self-doubt in yourself.  But if we don’t make efforts, expand our mindset, or start to actually drive change, then we’ll continue to make the same mistakes and I’ll have to keep writing blogs about it.

 

And nobody wants that.

 

Todd Garcia is a writer, actor, businessman and proud member of the Chicago Inclusion Project. He writes regularly at campgarcia.wordpress.com and you can follow him on twitter and instagram @Toddawatomi.

March 19, 2016

This past week, Marriott Theatre announced the cast for their upcoming production of Evita . To the surprise and dismay of some in the community, only one person of Latino heritage was included.  In an open letter to Marriott Theatre, Chicago actor, Bear Bellinger invited the institution to "explain and address the situation" and charged that they "have fallen out of touch with the need for minority perspectives in our stage conversations."  Marriott executive producer, Terry James replied in an emailed statement that they were"deeply saddened by the letter that Mr. Bellinger posted," and that "it undermines a continuing partnership with Actors‘ Equity Association in efforts to encourage ALL ethnicities to join in the audition process. The theatre announced Latino director/choreographer Alex Sanchez for Evita and encouraged all ethnicities to audition. The same is done for every production and stated in the audition notice." 

 

The theater's response triggered many reactions within the Chicago theater community.  Below are a few of the artists who graciously gave us their time to provide a response... 

 

 

I'm grateful to Bear Bellinger for penning his open letter calling attention to Marriot's poor work in casting Evita. It would seem that Marriot should be more deeply saddened by their lack of effectivness in properly staffing their artistic team in one of the most culturally diverse artistic communities in the world, rather than by the negative attention their shoddy work has drawn. We can only assume the insensitive and inadequate response to Mr. Bellinger's letter is due to their deep sadness.­­

                                                                                                                                                                                                – Aaron Todd Douglas 

                    Actor, Director, Ensemble Member at Congo Square Theater

 

 

 

 

I'm tired of being asked why my UNCLE VANYA adaptation states that an all-white cast is not permitted. The answer is - because those are my politics. Because work that represents the city we live in leads to a better conversation. Because it's the right damn thing to do. Some day, when we are done with controversies like this - or Nightingale, or Circle's "Bollywood" Pippin, etc, etc - maybe I won't have to explicitly state that. But today, I do. The playing field needs to be aggressively leveled - possibly razed - and until it is, postings that state "we are seeking a diverse cast" are simply not enough.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            –  Lavina Jadhwani

Director, Artistic Associate at Oak Park Festival Theatre& Silk Road Rising

 

 

 

 

I  think the thing that bugs me the most about this whole situation are the people who confuse representation with skin tone. I've talked to many people who defend the choice under the argument of "Well, Argentineans of that time were closer to white than Latino" They say this without considering that it's not about skin tone. My Grandmother was 100% puerto rican and white AF. Latinos come in all colors. They claim a white person in these roles looks more "accurate". To my eyes, I can't understand how a white woman named Hannah is more accurate than an ACTUAL Latina. The thing that bugs me second is that its tiiiiiired. It's safe and pandering and will never have an artistic impact on the community which is the whole point of making art, right?

                                                                                                                                                                                                             – Diego Colón

                        Actor, Musician, Ensemble Member with Barrel of Monkeys

 

 

It's incorrect to say "it's easy" to find the culturally appropriate cast, to find the talent that encompasses the singing, dancing, storytelling abilities needed to put on your production, to enrich your database with new faces and body types and different pool of actors you had ten years ago.  But it IS possible and it IS the right thing to do and it IS how we can continue to move forward.  Creating an ensemble can be a frustrating puzzle in any scenario. But if it is truly important to you, you do the leg work -- you attend productions featuring diverse talent, you leave your neighborhood, you have conversations, whatever you were doing before, you do things differently.  The talent doesn't always know you're looking for them.  But you have to truly be looking for them.  The right thing to do is sometimes the hard thing to do.  But please do the right thing.  And if you did all those things...We would all love for you to outline your inclusive casting practice - I welcome that explanation.  But it has to be more than adding the required AEA copy of "all ethnicities encouraged to audition" tagged on to the end of a casting call.  We have to hold each other up to higher standards than this.  You do good work. You can do better.  We can do better.

                                                                                                                                      - Emjoy Gavino

                                                                                               Actress, Casting Director at Gift Theatre

 

It is difficult to imagine a way forward if we can’t take accountability for decision-making or hear criticism as an opportunity to have a frank dialogue and improve together. It is a constant and absolutely imperfect process, but we as allies must all take responsibility and listen openly in order to affect real and immediate change in the representation of diverse artists on our stages and beyond.

 

- Marti Lyons

Director, Ensemble Member with Gift Theatre and Sideshow Theatre

                                                                                                                                                                               

 

The Marriott's response to Bear Bellinger's open letter criticizing their predominantly non-Latino cast of EVITA is sadly what one comes to expect from an institutionalized, commercial theatre. While some (like Goodman and Steppenwolf) are active and valuable participants in the conversation for inclusive casting, the Marriott's response is systemic of the greater problem. It seems as if the concept of casting this piece true heritage was never a part of their conversation and if it was, they didn't make enough of a commitment to see it through. It is not merely enough to "encourage all ethnicities to audition", you will at some point have to invite us to sit at the table. And not just when you need to "add color" to a show, but for every show. Unfortunately, it seems as if institutions like the Marriott only take this issue seriously when they are called out on it. I hope that moving forward all theatre companies, regardless of size or budget, have these conversations sooner rather than later in preproduction and understand the effects how such insensitivity impacts our community and industry.

                                                                                                                                   – Danny Bernardo                                             Actor, Playwright, Artistic Associate Emeritus at Porchlight Music Theater

 

 

I thought the artistic director totally missed the point when he was proud of the fact he cast a Latino in role of the King of Siam. Just because you have a couple of people of color here and there, you should not think that is enough. You would think with all the reactions to other theaters (around the country) casting of white actor in non-white roles, they would be more sensitive or aware. They seem to be in a suburban bubble. I think people are tired of business as usual. Also it makes good business sense when people see people that look like them on stage they tend to show up. When I designed the workshop of the King of Yees, I never saw so many Asians at the theater. Another thing is that the people who work behind the scenes tend to be mostly white also. Slowly I am seeing more designers and crew of color but it is still mostly white.  The thing about lack of designers of color is more complicated. I just don't see a lot of people of color studying theater design. If the director and production team are all white then the danger is that we see the story and the characters through a white gaze no matter how enlightened, well intentioned, well research, well prepared the designer is. I am not saying you should always hire a designer of color but it It helps to have people of color on the team, be it the dramaturg, assistant director or director you can go to ask the straight questions. Also you can talk to the actor themselves.

                                                                                                                                  – Christine Pascual

                                                       Freelance Costume Designer currently at American Players Theatre

 

They basically said we have read your letter and want you to know we did legal bare minimum to reach out to persons of color for casting and are not going to mention any intention of changing our behavior. He goes on to mention his personal injury for the reputation but no mention of effort to amend that reputation. Also, responsible casting is not a ratio. What is this 22 out of 26 BS? You don't get to do a white lead in an August Wilson play and claim it was mostly black. You don't get to do one "diverse show" a season and say we speak for the people. It's about the specific roles. People of color are not just quotas when telling their own stories. Promoting advocacy and awareness and responsibility comes from the top down. The problem with privilege is that defense makes more money than change. Apologies are not profitable. Unfortunately, this response wreaks of privilege and it is the community's responsibility to reduce the fiscal and employee reinforcement they receive for irresponsible and frankly, out of touch, behavior. It's 2016. What rock are they under?  His response makes no mention of any effort for responsible casting in shows that don't list persons of color in the breakdown. So not only are you failing in shows that technically and ethically require POC, but as an organization, their effort outside the are minimum seems to be less than even the bare minimum. And it is typical of the privileged mindset to blame the POC for not turning out to their auditions.... Ugh, sorry, my mind is just tossing and I'm just so disappointed in their reply to a letter that was just so respectful and sincerely seemed to aim to start a much needed conversation.

                                                                                                                                   - Hannah Gomez                                                                      Freelance Actress, currently working at 16th Street Theatre

 

I find it incredibly insulting and difficult to believe that an organization with that amount of resources couldn't take the time, effort and thought to seek out the appropriate actors for their roles. One sentence in an audition notice simply does not suffice.Furthermore, their insistence that they "don't give much thought," to the diversity of playwrights and actors they decide to produce or employ is, well, just that, thoughtless.

 

What we do is a privilege and responsibility. It is a responsibility to be both reflective and instructive. Reflective of the world we actually live in, instructive to its participants in that we should all be able to learn some thing about who we are and who we want to be. By white washing "Evita," the Marriott has shirked this responsibility and regarded that privilege carelessly. It is disappointing, to say the least, and we as a community are right to question them.  This is a prime example of the problems that occur when diversity in every way, at every level of our industry is not prioritized. When leadership is homogeneous, and unable to empathize with the experiences of the larger and more diverse community in which they act as "gatekeepers," their actions reflect that, and nothing changes. 

                                                                                                                                      – Deanna Myers

                                                                               Actress, Ensemble Member with Barrel of Monkeys

 

 

The producers of the Marriott are ignorant of their current events as well as the past. Eva Peron, a descendent of Basque immigrants to Argentina, was a champion of the poor, the workers, and other disenfranchised communities. To cast someone from the dominant culture (European and White) as Evita, a whitewashing narrative is taking place in the name of artistic license.

 

This Hemisphere of the Americas – that includes North, South, and Central territories – is not the same one that allowed EVITA to emerge in the 80’s. The world is much more fluid, dynamic, multiethnic – and to ignore that in 21st century is akin to claiming men should only perform the works of Shakespeare.

Has EVITA, along with WEST SIDE STORY, reached its MIKADO moment? Has those musical’s origins – with its inauthentic portrayal of ethnic or foreign life, written by white men and originally played by a predominantly white casts - to be done today? Or should it not be done if it can’t be cast authentically?

 

Musicals that take place within a Hispanic/ Latino culture but that have historically excluded any creative or artistic input from Hispanic / Latino artists and performers haven’t necessarily had to face such a measurement in any significant way. Until today. Because today, there are no excuses, and to claim that all efforts were made for diversity in casting falls rings false. I’m surprised that the producers didn’t cite the recent casting call of ‘Hamilton’ in Chicago as the reason they couldn’t find any performers of color.

                                                                                                                                         - Tlaloc Rivas

                                                                 Director, Playwright, Co-Founder of The Latina/o Commons

 

 

March 17, 2016

Continuing our support ofproductions that embrace inclusion for artists and audiences, below are shows that you canbuy tickets to THIS WEEK that we feel are moving our community in the right direction. Let your wallet do the talking.Buy tickets to shows that celebrate inclusion.​Then write to producers and tell them you want to see more of it.Decision makers are led by numbers and this is one way we can all make a difference.

Neverbird Project(in collaboration with Athe students of Alexander Graham Bell School's Sign/Voice Theatre Program)presents Pinnochio

Directed and Adaptedby Katy Boza and Levi Holloway

Playing April 1-April 9 at the Alexander Graham Bell School

3730 N Oakley Avenue, Chicago, IL

Pinocchio is about allowing joy and grief to exist in your heart simultaneously. It's a love letter to the youth we lose, no matter how hard we try to hold onto it- and the life that's ahead of us- just so long as we put one foot in front of the other. With the collaboration of Deaf and Hearing actors, it is the story of a puppet, a toy maker, and the dead girl who strings them together.

Ticket Prices: $5-$8 Buy ticketsHERE

Brown Paper Box Company presents Julius Caesar

Directed by Lavina Jadhwani

Playing through April 3 at The Greenhouse Theatre

2257 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL

BrownPaper Box Co. presents Shakespeare's tale of Brutus, ayoung political leader forced to choose between personal alliances to his home and political loyalties to his state.Guest director Lavina Jadhwanireexaminesthe world's most famous assassination story— featuring a female Julius Caesar, female Mark Antony, and male Calphurnia — toldthrough agender-consciouslens.

Ticket Prices: $25Buy ticketsHERE

The show features Amy Malcom,Jeff Kurysz, Vahishta Vafadari,Dan Toot, Susan Myburgh, Dan Cobbler, Abie Irabor andT.J. Anderson

The Hypocrites presents Adding Machine: A Musical

Directed by Geoff Button

Playing through May 15 at The Den Theatre's Heath Mainstage

1329 N Milwaukee Avenue

Mr. Zero, a modern-day everyman, hates his wife, he hates his job, he hates his lot in life. After twenty-five years spent adding figures for the same company, he comes to work one day only to find he’s been replaced by a machine. Beleaguered and broken, Zero’s journey takes him to confounding places both here and in the afterlife as he struggles to believe that his life will ever amount to something.Adding Machine: A Musicalis an expressionistic tale of love, murder, and salvation.

Ticket Prices: $28-36 Buy ticketsHERE

The show features Neala Barron, Bear Bellinger, Tyler Brown, Patrick Du Laney, Andres Enriquez, Kelli Harrington, Laura McClain, John Taflan and Jonah D. Winston

March 9, 2016

Continuing our support of productions that embrace inclusion for artists and audiences, below are shows that you can buy tickets to THIS WEEK that we feel are moving our community in the right direction.  Let your wallet do the talking. Buy tickets to shows that celebrate inclusion.​ Then write to producers and tell them you want to see more of it.  Decision makers are led by numbers and this is one way we can all make a difference.    

 

 

 

The House Theatre of Chicago presents United 232

Adapted and Directed by Vanessa Stalling

Playing through May 1 at The Chopin Theatre

1543 W Division St, Chicago

 

 On July 19, 1989, a DC-10 headed for O’Hare with 296 aboard is paralyzed mid-air. For 44 minutes, the aircraft descended towards an emergency landing and crashed at Sioux City Gateway airport. To the astonishment of all who witnessed the event, 184 of 296 passengers and crew survived. Drawing on the interviews and research conducted by Evanston author Laurence Gonzales for his critically acclaimed book, Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival, this brand new play, United Flight 232, is a reflection on how to comprehend tragedy and celebrate human ingenuity in the face of overwhelming challenges.

 

Ticket Prices: $15-35  Buy tickets HERE

The show features Brenda Barrie, Echaka Agba, Alice Da Cunha, Elana Elyce, Rudy Galvan, Johnny Arena, Kroydell Galima, Michael Martin and James Doherty

 

 

 You're Being Ridiculous presents OOPS

Curated by Jeremy Owens

Playing March 12 at Mayne Stage

1328 W Morse Chicago, IL

 

You're Being Ridiculous is a group of real people telling real (nonfiction) funny stories about their lives with a theme as their guide. Our motto is good stories are better than good times. We laugh at ourselves and laugh with each other. Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?

Each show features six or more performers telling a 10-ish minute story.  The show runs between an hour and an hour and a half. 

 

Ticket Prices: $15  Buy tickets HERE

The show features  Brooke Allen, Ricardo Gamboa, Elizabeth Gomez, Tyler Greene, Sarah Hollenbeck, Jill Howe, Sam Irby, Rebecca Makkai, Jeremy Owens, and Karen Shimmin

 

 

AboutFace Theatre presents After All the Terrible Things I do

Directed by Andrew Volkoff 

Playing through April 10 at Theater Wit

1229 W Belmont Ave, Chicago IL

 

A gripping and intimate new play from one of American theatre’s rising stars explores the dark side of ordinary people, second chances and the price of forgiveness. Returning to his Midwestern hometown after college, Daniel, a young, gay writer, takes a job at the local bookstore he knew as a child. After he and Linda, the Filipina bookstore owner, begin working together, they discover they share a dark connection that goes much deeper than a love of literature.

 

Ticket Prices: $20-35  Buy tickets  HERE

The show features Lisa Tejero and Colin Sphar

 

 

The Gift Theatre presents Richard III

Directed by Jessica Thebus

Playing through May 1 at Steppenwolf's Garage Theatre

1624 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL

 

The Gift leads this innovative take on the Shakespearean classic—a production originally planned by the disbanded Next Theatre of Evanston—presented in Steppenwolf’s Garage Theatre. Experience some of the finest actors in the Chicago theater community coming together to tell the outrageous rise and reign of Richard.  In partnership with The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

 

Ticket Prices: $20-35  Buy tickets  HERE

The show features Michael Patrick Thornton, Brittany Burch, John Connolly, Kenny Mihilfred, Keith Neagle, Jay Worthington, Kyle Zornes, Jenny Avery, Thomas J. Cox, Olivia Cygan, Adrian Danzig, Shanesia Davis, Gregory Fenner, Christopher Peltier, Hannah Toriumi, Caroline Latta and Martel Manning

 

The Goodman Theatre Presents The Matchmaker

Directed by Henry Wishcamper

Playing through April 10 in The Albert Theatre

170 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL

 

Cunning, crafty and thoroughly modern, Dolly Gallagher Levi knows a good catch when she sees one. So when the wealthy Horace Vandergelder hires her to find him a wife, Dolly doesn’t need to look far to find his perfect mate. The Matchmaker is an uproarious romp that reminds us to embrace the unexpected in our lives. 

 

Ticket Prices: $20-50  Buy tickets  HERE

The show features Kristine Nielsen, Allen Gilmore, Theo Allyn, Behzad Dabu, Lawrence DiStasi, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Sydney Germaine, Marc Grapey, Anita Hollander, Ronobir Lahiri, Elizabeth Leod, Postell Pringle and Ron Rains

 

Pride Films & Plays Presents Raggedy And

Directed by Cecilie D. Keenan

Playing through April 10 at Rivendell Theater

5779 N Ridge Chicago, IL

 

In Raggedy And, a fast-paced ultramodern comedy of manners, the perfect poet is needed for the impending inauguration of America’s first female president. When Ondi Rivers, a trans woman, is selected, her wife hits the roof and her son is torn. Imagining the glare of the media spotlight on her family’s private life, will she take the stage?

 

Ticket Prices: $15-27 Buy tickets  HERE

The show features Averis Anderson, Delia Kropp, Katurah Nelson and Manuel Ortiz.
 

 

 

Steppenwolf Theatre presents The Compass

Directed and Devised by Michael Rohd

Playing through March 12 at Steppenwolf Theatre

1650 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL

 

At the center of The Compass is a trial, determining the fate of a young person who used an app to make a life-altering decision. In this play, every show will end differently, depending on what you, the audience, decide. Join us as we navigate the question: When someone else, or something else, tells you what to do, what exactly are you responsible for? School performances are Tuesday through Friday at 10am and are reserved for school groups only.

 

Ticket Prices: $15-20 Buy tickets  HERE

The show features Bryan Bosque, Cherly Lynn Bruce, Ariana Burks, Jasin Cardenas, Melissa DuPrey, Cruz Gonzalez Cadel, Krylstel McNeill, Johnathan Nieves, Abby Pajakowski, Sean Parris, Emilio Robles, Alex Tey, LIndsey Barlag Thornton and Tim Hopper.

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