July 31, 2016

Brown is brown is tan is black hair dye, yes?  We’re all just playing roles, it’s all costume, it’s just pretend, it’s theater, after all. 

Hollywood, Broadway, regional theater, gate keepers with a ton of resources as well as the actors who audition and work for them have been operating under the following casting practices:

1.       Hire the “best” person for the job.

2.       If they can pass as this ethnicity, costumes and design will support it.

3.       It’s illegal to ask a person’s ethnicity, anyway.

4.       If we hold general auditions and people don't show up it's not our fault.

For those of you who might have been away from social media for the last week/month/decade,  Porchlight Theatre Company recently made a statement regarding their upcoming production of In the Heights that “after an exhaustive audition process” they “made every effort to present a company that reflects the true spirit of this story of community and family as we build an immersive, one-of-a-kind experience that will place our audiences right in the middle of all the excitement, and the music found in the barrio of Washington Heights.”

Unbeknownst to the artistic team, they cast an white actor in the role originated by the show’s composer and star, Lin Manuel Miranda.    

This, on the heels of Porchlight’s much applauded production of Dreamgirls, on the heels of Marriott Theatre’s major controversy surrounding the white washing of Evita , just 4 months before.  Opportunities don’t just get taken away from Latinx artists, as the Asian American theater community pointed out with La Jolla’s 2012 production of The Nightingale set in Qing Dynasty China.  Not to mention the many examples of actors portraying non-binary or trans characters and characters with disability, occurring constantly, resulting in Oscar bait.  This is sadly not the first time this happened, so let's zoom out a little...


Reason #1: HISTORY -- This is just what's always been done.  Producers, directors and casting people have defaulted to casting white actors, even when the story calls for non-white actors.  Mainstream audiences accept it, the projects make money, and people get away with it.  

Japanese? Vietnamese? Native American? Mexican? Chilean? Nope.

Reason #2: PEOPLE CONFUSE "SKIN COLOR" WITH "ETHNICITY." -- I don't know if you are aware, but there are many different ways a person can look within each culture.  Not every Indian man looks like Dev Patel, not every black woman looks like Viola Davis, not every Mexican man looks like  Gael Garcia Bernal.  The fact that people are saying "but his skin tone made it look like he was Latino," reflects a major part of this problem.  

Reason #3: NO ONE IS TAKING RESPONSIBILITY -- The directors point to the actors for submitting themselves for roles outside their ethnicity, the actors point to the theaters for allowing them to audition in the first place and everyone points to certain rules -- namely that Actors' Equity requires auditions be open to anyone, regardless of race or ability.  So this is a cycle that will continue unless new language and new practices are created.  But everyone needs to own the part they play in perpetuating this.

Reason #4:  THE MONEY THOUGH. -- Look, I get it.  Actors want the work.  If you are a classically trained actor in a very large city full of lots of people and you want that job and you've passed for this ethnicity before, etc, etc,etc..."It's called acting," after all.  I don't have the energy or magical powers to convince every person on earth to agree with what I think is right and wrong.  But when you were preparing that monologue, heavy with culturally specific dialogue, was there a moment where you got a small stomach ache? A flicker of doubt that this wasn't your story to tell?  An ounce of guilt that maybe you were taking an opportunity away from someone rarely invited into audition rooms to begin with?  There are other jobs.  Listen to your gut.  Lauren Villegas explores this very thing on her website, Am I Right?

There are actually probably one hundred more reasons why this keeps happening, but my head will explode if I try to explore each and everyone one of those.  So back to those casting practices and what we can do about it.  

1.       Hire the “best” person for the job.

          Remember, whether we admit it or not, it is very easy to fall back into "default casting" because a theater might be used to working with white actors who directors might know better than "the unknown."  Remember that the idea of "best" is subjective, so to actually have members of the community that your show is celebrating (not just pandering to, but celebrating, lifting up, reflecting) in your artistic team - directors, casting associates, choreographers, people who have an actual say in making a decision is in your productions' best interest.  Then that "best" will reflect a much more "authentic" and rich chorus of voices.  

2.       If they can pass as this ethnicity, costumes and design will support it.

          Nope.  Just because people in the past have "gotten away with it," does not mean you have a right to hijack an entire community's story, their roles, their voices.  As Tommy Rivera-Vega, a well respected theater actor put it in his incredible statement on Facebook, "Being Latinx is not just putting on an accent, getting a cool haircut, the prominent beard, lot of hair, shuffling your feet so it looks like you can salsa. It is about who we are as people. It is about growing up and trying to understand the reason why we have to work harder than everyone else." You know what would be better than dying that Caucasian actress's hair black? Actually casting a person of Lebanese descent in that lead role about a woman from Lebanon. There is actually no reason or excuse to participate in Blackface, Yellowface, Brownface, etc. 

3.       It’s illegal to ask a person’s ethnicity, anyway  and 4.  If we hold general auditions and people don't show up it's not our fault. 

          OK. Here's what's not illegal:

          - Going to see some shows outside your neighborhood.  There's lots of talent out there.  Go find it yourself.  

          - Contacting the Chicago Minority Actor Database, which is a self identification database put together to help minority actors connect with Chicagoland theatres.  It's not a definitive list, but it is a very good start.  Email chicagoaoc@gmail.com with a breakdown of what you're looking for and they'll send a filtered reply of those who have opted in to that identity.

          - Not just doing generals, but holding specific auditions for certain roles and shows: Don't know all the Latinx actors in the city?  Start with the ones you do know, call them in first, make room for them first, then you can proceed with...

          - Asking around.  Ask people - leaders, teachers, designers in that community. Start this process early enough that you have enough time to be thorough in your asking -- "Who am I missing from this list? Who should I know about?

          - Looking at the actors' resume.  I'm not just talking about staring at their headshot and their last name.  I'm not just talking about peeking at their special skills section to see if they have a Chinese dialect.  I mean actually look at their resume.  Did they have a teacher they worked with in college who you are friends with?  Did they work with a playwright you know?  It's not only okay to do research. It's actually pretty standard practice for hiring.  You would check references, right?  This isn't any different.  

There are so many people, so many communities that are made invisible by not being given opportunities to be onstage.  Not only do these minorities not get to be seen in non-specific ethnic roles, they don't even get to represent the culture they actually represent.  I really hoped we were past this.  That we could put on a production for and about a community rarely represented in a positive light with a cast that reflects that.  But production after production, blog post after townhall meeting after disappointing Facebook thread have proven we aren't past this yet.  Stop trying to get away with things. Do better.

July 25, 2016

We are thrilled that even past the weekend, you can still support amazing artists creating safe and diverse spaces in our theater scene.  Here are things to see TONIGHT.

The Gift Theatre presents Swallowing Frogs, a staged reading

Written by Samantha Bailey

Directed by Chika Ike

The Gift Theatre Company

4802 N Milwaukee Avenue


A young couple gets trapped in their Logan Square apartment during a bad storm. When an unexpected guest shows up, their relationship is jeopardized as they try to make it through the next 24 hours. Swallowing Frogs explores what love and vulnerability look like through the eyes of some imperfect individuals.

The cast includes McKenzie Chinn, Julian Parker, Dana Black and Vahishta Vafadari

Ticket Price: FREE

Reserve your tickets at https://www.facebook.com/events/580141005479940/

Firebrand Theatre presents Juke Joint

Conceived and Directed by Lili-Anne Brown,

Music Directed by Jimmy Morehead

1329 N Milwaukee Avenue 

Bringing all the grit and soul you could ask for on a steamy Monday in July. You don't want to miss this! 
"The juke joint is where you can go and get yourself a drink or four, and hear some low-down, gutbucket musical truth administered by funky soul priestesses. You'll want to dance a dirty boogie, or testify, or both. I hear there might be Harold's Chicken if folks act right and don't start no mess." -Lili-Anne Brown (Conceiver and Director)

Emceed by J.C. Brooks and with a rockin' band including Nick Davio, Adam DeGroot, Ethan Deppe, Katie Hickey, Charles Roberts, and Jake Saleh. 

The cast includes Chicago powerhouses Angela Alise, Karla Beard, Elisa Carlson, Sydney Charles, Rashada Dawan, Sharriese Hamilton, Donica Lynn, Meghan Murphy, Alexis J. Rogers, Bethany Thomas, and Lina Wass.

Where: The Den Theatre cabaret space (Ground floor). 1329 N Milwaukee, Chicago IL 60622. 
When: Monday July 25th 9pm
Ticket price: $25
Industry: $20

To purchase tickets: 

July 22, 2016

Have you been having the same conversations we have?  About how it's built into the system that the stage pictures we see often look eerily similar to how it did 10, 20, 50 years ago?  Feeling frustrated? Need to do something?  GO SUPPORT THEATERS DOING IT RIGHT. 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.​ (**Low on funds? That's okay -- a few of these shows are completely free, making them even more accessible to audiences!) 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 Hypocrites presents Midsummer Dream 

Adapted by Tien Doman and Sean Graney

Directed by Tien Doman

July 20 - 23 at Washington Park, 5531 S. Martin Luther King Dr..
July 27 - 30 at Smith Park, 2526 W. Grand Ave.

In a play not very distinguishable from a dream, each character falls into the magic of a mysterious summer night. Follow the journey of lovers escaping to seal their love in the woods where fairies with magical powers rule. Getting tangled amongst actors rehearsing their play for the king’s wedding and a dazing search for a love potion, everyone’s love is put to the test.

With only 4 actors who also serve as designers, Midsummer Dream is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play. During the 60-minute experience, the audience becomes immersed in an intimate relationship with the actors as they never leave the performing space. As a result, Midsummer Dream intends to translate the original spirit of the play to today’s audiences.

The ensemble includes Roy Gonzalez, Shadana Patterson, Walter Briggs, Daniel Parsons and Cruz Gonzalez

Ticket price FREE

Reserve your tickets HERE

Eclipse Theatre Company presents Our Lady of 121st Street

Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Directed by Eclipse ensemble member Sarah Moeller

The Athenaeum Theatre
2936 N. Southport Ave. Chicago IL
Plays through August 21, 2016 

The Ortiz Funeral Home is in big trouble: The body of beloved community activist and nun Sister Rose has been stolen from the viewing room, and waiting for her proper return are some of New York City's most emotionally charged, life-challenged neighborhood denizens, trying to find a place to put their grief, checkered pasts and their uncertain futures. The rest of the crowd in this dark, insightful and very funny comedy inevitably square off on each other, motivated by rage, pain and a scary desire to come clean—perhaps for the first time.  

The ensemble includes Anthony Apodaca, Celeste Cooper, Rudy Galvan, Todd Garcia, Gregory Geffrard, Gernard GIlbert, Ashley Hicks, Kristen Johnson, Paloma Nozicka, Gary Simmers, Kevin Scott and Matt Thinnes.  

Ticket price $20-30

Reserve your tickets HERE

Free Street Theater presents Space Age

Written by Ricardo Gamboa and Sean James William Parris

Developed with Molly Brennan, Azar Kazemi, Coya Paz, Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke

Free Street Theater

1419 W Blackhawk, 3rd Floor

Through August 8

Two boys, one bathtub, explosive physical re-enactments of pop culturla bits and scenes between two real-life lovers come together in this celebration of queer-of-color imagination and intimacy in a play about really really gay things like hope, love and resilience.

The ensemble includes Ricardo Gamboa and Sean James William Parris

Ticket Price Walk ups are always pay what you can

Reserve your tickets HERE

VanKap Productions presents a reading of the new work TIN NOSES

Written by Sarah Bowden

Montrose Saloon 

2933 W Montrose Ave

Sunday July 24, 3pm

When movie star Max is cast as a wounded World War I vet in an upcoming prestige pic, he must learn how to perform disability for the camera. Who better to help shape his physicality than ex-flame and hotshot choreographer Hannah? And her colleague Austin, who lost the role to Max, and who lives with a disability. Nope, this won't get awkward at all.

The ensemble includes Rory Leahy, Kat Evans and Kevin D'Ambrosio

Ticket Price FREE

Reserve your tickets HERE

About Face Theatre presents Ad Hoc [Home]

Devised by The About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble

Directed by Ali Hoefnagel and Kieran Kredell 

Chicago Cultural Centers Claudia Cassidy Theater
78 E Washington Street
Plays through July 31

AD HOC [HOME] explores queer experiences of given family, chosen family, and the family members we collect and lose along the way.  Through storytelling, video, and movement, the critically acclaimed About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble investigates the questions of who we are at our core and how families shape our identities.  

The ensemble includes members of The About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble

Ticket price $15, suggested donation, but no one will be turned away at the door for lack of ability to donate

Reserve your tickets HERE

Marriott Theatre presents Man of La Mancha

Written by Dale Wasserman, Music and Lyrics by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion

Directed by Nick Bowling

Marriott Theatre

Ten Marriott Drive, LIncolnshire, IL

Plays through August 14

One of the world’s most popular musicals, MAN OF LA MANCHA tells of the adventures of a delusional Spanish knight who sallies forth on a quest to restore chivalry to the world, claim his lady love and dare to dream “The Impossible Dream”.

The ensemble includes Nathaniel Stampley, Richard Ruiz, Danni Smith, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, Lillian Castillo, Bobby Daye, James Harms, Andrew Mueller, Matt Mueller, Cassie Slater, Craig Spidle and Brandon Springman. 

Ticket price $50-55

Reserve your tickets HERE

Free Street Theatre presents 100 Hauntings

Created by Ysaye Alma, Christine Bowen, Annette Britton, Dan Cobbler, Emmanuel Dunagan, Daisy Franco, Aaryanna Garriss, Noe Jara, Johanna Orr, Izzy Strazzabosco, Deanalís Resto, Alex Rodriguez, Elijah Ruiz, and Aimy Tien

Directed by Coya Pazz and Bobby Biedrzycki

July 30th           La Villita Park              2800 S. Sacramento               Chicago, Illinois 60608
August 3rd       Davis Square Park      4430 S. Marshfield Ave.         Chicago, Illinois 60609
August 5th       Calumet Park               9801 S. Avenue G                  Chicago, Illinois 60617
August 16th     Walsh Park                  1722 N. Ashland Ave.             Chicago, Illinois 60614
August 17th     Merrimac Park             6343 W. Irving Park Rd.           Chicago, Illinois 60634

Free Street’s 100 Hauntings draws on real people’s stories from across the city to ask: what’s haunting Chicago? From an elevator operator named Jorge who doesn’t know he’s dead to the legacy of housing laws in Chicago,100 Hauntings offers audiences a fun and spooky campfire-style experience that aims to resurrect our city’s most ordinary hauntings. Performed by a multigenerational ensemble of storytellers, comedians, and actors from around the city and presented in collaboration with the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks initiative.  

The ensemble includes Ysaye Alma, Christine Bowen, Annette Britton, Dan Cobbler, Emmanuel Dunagan, Daisy Franco, Aaryanna Garriss, Noe Jara, Johanna Orr, Izzy Strazzabosco, Deanalís Resto, Alex Rodriguez, Elijah Ruiz, and Aimy Tien

Ticket price FREE

No Reservations 

American Theater Company presents This Beautiful City 

Created by The Civilians

Written by Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis

Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman

Directed Sonny Das

American Theatre Company

1909 W Byron Street

Plays through August 2

Colorado Springs. A Decade Ago. George W. Bush has just been reelected, Ted Haggard is the leader of New Life Church, and a small city in the Rocky Mountains has established itself as the Evangelical capital of the world. Every story has many sides when a community reflects on their place in a culture rapidly swept up in a new religious movement. Atheists, Baptists, Alternative Thinkers, LGBT Activists, and Cowboy Wranglers all share their perspectives on the effect of the Evangelical movement on their lives and their sense of home through story and song.

The ensemble includes members of the About Face Theatre Youth Ensemble: Lawren Carter, Latrel Crawford, Max Dizon, Matt Gomez Hidaka, Danielle Jean-Baptiste, Jenna Makkawy, Madison Pulman, Michael Sandoval, Leah Schiffman, Olivia Shine, Leojae Steward, and Ireon Roach.

Ticket price $15, suggested donation

Get your tickets HERE

The Second City presents You & Me

deMaat Studio Theatre

1608 N Wells St

Plays through July 30

YOU & ME is a two-person, entirely improvised, no suggestion set with Michael Patrick Thornton & a guest artist. YOU & ME originally premiered at The Den Theatre where it enjoyed a year-long run. It has since appeared at the Chicago Improv Festival and at Actors Theatre of Louisville, where Artistic Director Les Waters calls the show “Hilarious, horrifying, and human. Quite magical, really.”

Chicago Reader Recommended.

Thornton says, “I keep hearing from my actor friends how fearful and alien improv feels to them and vice-versa with my improv pals regarding theater. This is an unfortunate and unnecessary perceptual divide. Whether dialogue is written or invented, great scenes are about people needing each other and listening to each other. YOU & ME hopes to playfully re-patch this schism, refresh our faith in collective imagination, and reinforce the liberating truism that for this particular theatrical event, all we need and have is You & Me.”

A portion of the proceeds from this run of YOU & ME will be donated to Roundup River Ranch.

Roundup River Ranch enriches the lives of children with serious illnesses and their families by offering free, medically-supported camp programs that provide unforgettable opportunities to discover joy, friendships, and confidence.http://www.roundupriverranch.org/

You & Me stars Michael Patrick Thornton, Gregory Fenner and a special guest

Ticket price $13

Get your tickets HERE

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