Why Diversity in Casting is Important

Posted on February 9, 2012

0


Over the last few months, the American Theatre world has been aflutter with conversations on casting and the lack of diversity on stages. The controversy surrounding the casting decisions in TheaterWorks’ (Hartford, Connecticut) production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Motherfu**er With the Hat sparked multiple debates on a theater’s right to cast a show as it sees best. Thomas Cott, in his daily “You’ve Cott Mail”, used his Feb. 1 issue ( is it ironic, cynical, or coincidental that Feb. 1 was the first day of Black History month?) to bring light to other casting disparities, such as a decrease in roles for Asian-Americans and the dearth of Latino awardees for excellence in the film industry.

This is not a new debate nor will this debate disappear (as much as some out there may like that) any time soon. The truth is the issue won’t go away until more theatres proactively employ more actors of color to work on their stages.

At Mixed Blood, we have the luxury of having a mission, vision and core values that push us to pursue equality and advocate for a multiplicity of voices. In order to answer this call, we select plays that call for a diverse cast of actors. There have been times, though, when we have selected a play that doesn’t necessarily call for a diverse cast of actors but, in accordance with our mission, we have decided to cast the play in a “non-traditional” way.

Jack Reuler says that was predominantly the Mixed Blood of the 80s-90s.  In that era, we were really focused on illuminating classic texts in new ways by casting actors of color to play roles traditionally cast as white. Today, we work specifically on new plays that explore culturally specific themes and ideas but we still maintain a commitment to employing actors of color in roles for which they may not traditionally be a “fit”.

Our production of Crashing the Party will feature a very diverse cast of actors. Sally Wingert (Caucasian) and Joe Minjares (Chicano) play the mother and father to two biracial children. Josh Tobiessen’s script does not call for this specificity.

We describe our work, especially in this case, not as “color-blind” but as “color-conscious” casting. Color-blind casting, in most cases, ignores the racial differences amongst individuals in the cast, essentially asking actors to play “race-less” characters. We, under no pretense, suggest our actors should check their races, and the experiences that may bring, when stepping on our stage. In fact, mainly because this is the world premiere, we were able to adjust the text to better contextualize our casting choices. With full understanding of what each casting decision means, we embrace and celebrate the diversity of this cast.

It is our hope that this doesn’t come off as “we do it right and the rest of you all are screw ups.” To know Mixed Blood is to know we make mistakes, and when we do, we look for ways to not repeat those same sins. We offer this post up as a conversation starter and testament to the value we have found in diverse casts.

We hope the recent conversations lead to wholesale changes in the American Theatre. We offer up this humble contribution.