2016 seems to have been the year where we threw our toys out of the pram about diversity in theatre.
Andrew Lloyd Webber recently expressed concern that there aren’t enough black actors being cast in principal roles in theatre. Sonia Freidman then contradicted this statement by saying it had taken thirty five years to get Dreamgirls to the West End because of a lack of black actors available for the roles. And now, the latest saga is uproar over ‘yellow face’, casting white actors to play asian roles in In The Depths of Dead Love at The Print Room.
Firstly, we should stop referring to these things as ‘Blackface’ or ‘Yellowface’. These names come from a time when actors would use make up to change the colour of their skin for a role they were playing. This doesn’t happen these days thankfully. If there is a need to have a black character in a role then obviously you should hire a black actor for the part and not change the colour of anyone’s skin with make up. However, in 2016, directors are making more and more off-the-wall choices when it comes to casting their shows. It is as though gender and race are almost becoming obsolete and theatre is testing the boundaries and raising the limits of what is possible.
The current National Theatre production of Peter Pan throws gender out of the window, casting a small, european man in the role of Tinkerbell and a sassy lady as Captain Hook. Not to mention Nana the dog being played by a black man. So why are we taking offence to a white person playing an Asian role? How dare we say that someone isn’t fit to play a role because of the colour of their skin? Les Miserables has cast an array of different races to play its roles over the years. Asian Eponine’s with white mothers – it’s about seeing past the gender/skin colour and seeing the character that is being brought to life. We could also raise the bizarre notion of Les Mis being set in France when all of the characters sound like they have just come out of East London. Why aren’t we performing the french show with a french accent? Well because we don’t have to in order to convey the story.
If we want diversity in theatre, we need to stop singling out particular races, colours and creeds and strive for diversity across the board. If a black actor is the best person to play a character that has been white in the past then let them do it. If a white actor is the best person to play the role of a black person let them do it. If a man is the best person to play the role of a woman then let them do it and vice versa.
If a white actor was rubbing iodine on their skin before a show to give to appearance of being Asian, then of course this would be wrong and this argument would take a different view point. You can’t dress someone up to ‘look’ like they are from another culture. But so long as we make no apologies for the fact a white person is playing a black role or whatever it is then surely it is just the best person being cast for the job?
What ever will we moan about next? Gay actors playing straight characters in theatre?
We are living in a wonderful time in history where diversity is in full swing and we are getting to see interesting takes on stories like we have never seen before.
Let’s mix it up and create great shows. We are all members of the human race, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or whatever!
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