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Color-blind and gender-blind casting

goodlead
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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#1
Posted: 10/17/20 at 1:19pm

We are becoming more accustomed to color-blind casting, but what are its limitations? There are black plays and musicals that would seem ridiculous if white actors were cast in them, such as “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Dreamgirls,” and of course “Porgy and Bess.” But are there white plays where a black actor would subvert the play?

One example is “A Streetcar Named Desire.” What if a black actor played Stanley? Wouldn’t the subtext then become Blanche’s racial resentment? Her line to Stella, “Don’t hang back with the brutes,“ takes on extra and unwanted meaning. Suppose black actors play both Stanley and Mitch. Does that cancel the problem? What if a black actress plays Blanche or Stella or both?

Casting black actors in “Death of a Salesman” or “Hedda Gabler” or “Waiting for Godot” or almost any other play you can think of doesn’t present a problem, but there are plays where it does.

And to go one step farther, what about gender-blind casting, where male roles are played by women or vice versa. What are the limitations there? Whoopi can play Pseudolus in “Forum,” and Nathan Lane would be great in the Maggie Smith role in “Lettice and Lovage.” Dame Maggie could be “The Man Who Came to Dinner” with no problem.

But all these roles don’t have love interests. As soon as romance, either implied or explicit, becomes part of the play, then gender-blind casting changes the situation entirely.

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Jordan Catalano
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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#2
Posted: 10/17/20 at 2:00pm
“ One example is “A Streetcar Named Desire.” What if a black actor played Stanley?“

This was done about 10 years ago on broadway with Blair Underwood. It was a good production and I’m sure you can search here for threads taking about how it worked.
hayleyann
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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#3
Posted: 10/19/20 at 11:13am

When you look at predominately black plays and musicals like the ones you mentioned, race and/or culture is oftentimes a driving force behind the story.   That's why it would make no sense for a non-black person to play those roles.

But even in shows where race has nothing to do with casting, there is still a lag in casting BIPOC.   Look at Wicked....a world of fantasy where race literally doesn't matter and doesn't even exist in the context that we know it.  And they still have never had a black lead on Broadway.  The phenomenal Alexia Khadime was lead Elphaba on the West End for nearly a year and a half, but to my knowledge there hasn't been another black lead Elphaba.  There have been several standbys (Lilli Cooper, Saycon Sengbloh, Brandi Chavonne Massey).   And Glinda is a whole different story.  It wasn't until last year that anyone black ever played Glinda when Brittney Johnson went on as an understudy on Bway.  She's since been promoted to Glinda standby.  

 

Globefan
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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#4
Posted: 10/19/20 at 4:12pm

I'd like to see a black actress play Christine in The Phantom of the Opera 

SouthernCakes
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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#5
Posted: 10/19/20 at 4:24pm
I feel this but also think we should throw in body issues. I’d love to see a full figured Christine, etc.
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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#6
Posted: 10/19/20 at 6:07pm

There wouldn't be a full-figured dancer in the Corps de Ballet (or a black dancer either, but we won't get into that...)

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#7
Posted: 10/19/20 at 9:36pm

Tag said: "There wouldn't be ..."

Carefully scrutinize what these words are saying in the context in which you have said them and you will understand why why HAVE to get into that.

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#8
Posted: 10/19/20 at 9:48pm

I can think of two examples of 'color-blind' casting in recent years that reached the absurd.  The first was Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow in 'Carousel'.  The character isn't defined as white because he doesn't have to be - it's the 1840s in Maine.  The fact that the character also physically abuses Julie plays into the worst stereotypes of black men with a black man in the role.  The second was 'King Kong', admittedly a piece of dreck.  However, having Ann played by a black actress playing a black woman in 1933, who also is full of empowering enlightenment during a time when black women were treated as almost non-existent, isn't just foolish; it's stupid. 

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#9
Posted: 10/19/20 at 11:02pm

You are not describing color blind casting.

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helvizz
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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#10
Posted: 10/20/20 at 3:19pm
There are cases when switching a role's gender, age, race or body doesn't change anything: like the Leading Player, in Pippin., which has been played by both men and women. There are plays where this switch can add to the material: I saw Waitress with Nicollete Robinson, a black woman, as Jenna. It definitely set a new dynamic to the piece, what with her being in an abusive relationship with her white husband. And there are times where the switch can be... bad. That's where the limitations lie.

Part of the reason for that are the negative stereotypes associated with the minority in question. That's why having a black man play Billy in Carousel, a man who beats his wife, isn't a particularly good choice.

And what also limits this kind of switch in casting is changing a key component in the role's arch: say, a thin Tracy in Hairspray. Tracy IS supposed to be fat, that's what her journey is about, a bullied, fat girl proving she can be beautiful, have a good heart and dance well. That's why a thin Tracy doesn't work. It's also why it works to have Miss Trunchbull, in Matilda, be played by a man: her journey isn't about being a woman, it's about being mean, a despicable person. So she doesn't represent anyone. And, when there is a man in grotesque make up playing her, her exterior matches the outside, so it helps to tell the story better. I agree that doesn't switch the gender of the *role*, but it does the actor's. In my opinion, the gender of the role isn't blind because she has to be a woman: she is a contrast to Matilda and Matilda's teacher, both of which are female.
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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#11
Posted: 10/20/20 at 3:25pm

Pam Ferris (a woman) played the role quite well in the Matilda film (arguably better than any male onstage). In the stage version, the drag role is just a gimmick.

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#12
Posted: 10/20/20 at 3:59pm
... how about more Talent-blind casting.
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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#13
Posted: 10/20/20 at 4:26pm
Tag said: "Pam Ferris (a woman) played the role quite well in the Matilda film (arguably better than any male onstage). In the stage version, the drag role is just a gimmick."



I do recall that at one point the creators said they were certainly open to casting a woman, but they did want the character to have an imposing height over both the children and Miss Honey. I actually could have seen someone like Missi Pyle eventually taking on the role. At a reported 5'11" she could easily be pushed above 6' with a slight heel and lifts inside the shoes.

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Tom5
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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#14
Posted: 10/20/20 at 4:58pm

Sort of relates to this discussion. Some time ago there was a movie entitled 'ELF'. In it Will Ferrill a 40ish 6'2" man was a real and actual Elf and acted it. Hopping all around the business world trying to spread happiness. That was the central joke of the movie and it was a very funny one. Then there was the Broadway adaptation with the producers having a brainstorm and deciding to 'fix' it by making the central character look like an actual elf. See what I mean by related?  It's also one reason people in the theatre tear the hair out of their heads. Some people you just can't fix.

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#15
Posted: 10/20/20 at 5:01pm
Tag said: "Pam Ferris (a woman) played the role quite well in the Matilda film (arguably better than any male onstage). In the stage version, the drag role is just a gimmick."



Yes, she did. I didn't say the role couldn't be played by a woman, I just said it could be played by a man as well and that it brought something new to the material. It's an interesting situation where you switch the gender of the actor, but not the gender of the character.

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#16
Posted: 10/20/20 at 7:05pm

Harvey campaigned for Lainie Kazan to replace him in Hairspray.  If only!

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#17
Posted: 10/21/20 at 12:07am
Tag said: "Harvey campaigned for Lainie Kazan to replace him in Hairspray. If only!"



I had never heard that before, but now I can't stop thinking of how wonderful that would have been!

I do like how Divine would always make sure to refer to Lainie as the "older" sister when discussing Lust in the Dust.

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#18
Posted: 10/21/20 at 12:12am

AEA AGMA SM said: "Tag said: "Harvey campaigned for Lainie Kazan to replace him in Hairspray. If only!"

I had never heard that before, but now I can't stop thinking of how wonderful that would have been!

I do like how Divine would always make sure to refer to Lainie as the "older" sister when discussing Lust in the Dust.
"

Same. Her casting alone would have been worth the price of admission. 

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#19
Posted: 10/21/20 at 11:04am

Tag said: "Pam Ferris (a woman) played the role quite well in the Matilda film (arguably better than any male onstage). In the stage version, the drag role is just a gimmick."

Ok, then should we say Edna is the same? I always believed the choice of having Edna and Ms. Trunchbull being played by men came from the same artistic place. Not to mention, Ms. Trunchbull is described as being such a large women that had typically male body characteristics. That said, Pam Ferris is my favorite Ms. T PERIOD, but I was able to see Bertie in the role right before he left, and I still believe he should have won the Tony for it. I also still think since Ursula was based of off Divine, she also should have played by a man. Love me my Sheri Rene, but she just didn't do it for me. And like many said, it's changing the gender of the character, but the actor. 

And overall, I'll repeat from now until the end of time...these issues should never be blanketed to apply to every show and role in existence. There is plenty of nuance here. Just offhand, while I get Carousel had the huge potential to be problematic, Josh H didn't seem to have a problem, he actually did address this. I'm sure this was discussed with the creatives.

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#20
Posted: 10/21/20 at 11:17am

AADA81 said: "I can think of two examples of 'color-blind' casting in recent years that reached the absurd. The first was Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow in 'Carousel'. The character isn't defined as white because he doesn't have to be - it's the 1840s in Maine. The fact that the character also physically abuses Julie plays into the worst stereotypes of black men with a black man in the role. The second was 'King Kong', admittedly a piece of dreck. However, having Ann played by a black actress playing a black woman in 1933, who also is full of empowering enlightenment during a time when black women were treated as almost non-existent, isn't just foolish; it's stupid."

Playing into damaging stereotypes aside, I get where the time period argument comes from, but it has kept, and still keeps, POC from playing roles they'd otherwise be great for. The nuance of this, as well as color blind/conscious and gender blind/conscious casting needs discussing for every show.

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#21
Posted: 10/21/20 at 11:36am

JennH said: "AADA81 said: "I can think of two examples of 'color-blind' casting in recent years that reached the absurd. The first was Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow in 'Carousel'. The character isn't defined as white because he doesn't have to be - it's the 1840s in Maine. The fact that the character also physically abuses Julie plays into the worst stereotypes of black men with a black man in the role. The second was 'King Kong', admittedly a piece of dreck. However, having Ann played by a black actress playing a black woman in 1933, who also is full of empowering enlightenment during a time when black women were treated as almost non-existent, isn't just foolish; it's stupid."

Playing into damaging stereotypes aside, I get where the time period argument comes from, but it has kept, and still keeps, POC from playing roles they'd otherwise be great for. The nuance of this, as well as color blind/conscious and gender blind/conscious casting needs discussing for every show.
"

There are several almost-unrelated things going on in casting, and this thread has done a good job of confusing them. When a show intentionally casts a POC qua POC, that's not color blind casting. (E.g., Hamilton) When we talk about a color blind casting choice as "stupid" when it is simply "blind," it is, well, not very smart. As a part of coming to terms with systemic racism in the theatre, we have to confront the fact that we need to recognize stereotypes for what they are. To me one of the most useful exercises to recognize racial stereotypes is to substitute hair color for skin color. No one grew up with biases based on hair color.  

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#22
Posted: 10/22/20 at 9:00pm

It was a shame go see a full Broadway revival of Carousel to close so quickly. Is it possible that those doing the casting were not putting audience and investors first? Anyone in the audience unfamiliar with the show, or had forgotten the story, would think it was an interracial couple, since those are familiar to the audience. 

I saw 1874 cited as the year in which Carousel was set. Maine did not repeal its anti-miscegenation law for another ten years (not saying they enforced it). A black man would never be permitted to talk to and touch white women on a carousel.

What can they do? Announce in the program that Billy is a white man? The audience doesn't want to work that hard.

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#23
Posted: 10/22/20 at 9:23pm

Two reactions:

1. I don't think Carousel is commercially viable with any cast. It's dumb to produce it as if it had a chance. It lasted half a year; that's more than I would have imagined.

2. You obviously are not viewing the casting as color-blind. That pretty much makes my point. 

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#24
Posted: 10/23/20 at 9:44am

OlBlueEyes said: "It was a shame go see a full Broadway revival of Carousel to close so quickly. Is it possible that those doing the casting were not putting audience and investors first? Anyone in the audience unfamiliar with the show, or had forgotten the story, would think it was an interracial couple, since those are familiar to the audience.

I saw 1874 cited as the year in which Carousel was set. Maine did not repeal its anti-miscegenation law for another ten years (not saying they enforced it). A black man would never be permitted to talk to and touch white women on a carousel.

What can they do? Announce in the program that Billy is a white man? The audience doesn't want to work that hard.
"

The number of audience members who would know when Maine repealed that law, let alone know in which exact year when Carousel is set, is so minuscule they would be irrelevant. 

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Color-blind and gender-blind casting#25
Posted: 10/23/20 at 10:50am

In this case Carousel was not color-blind but history-blind. Or color/history-blind.