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.