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Growing as A Blogger

I am not a self-described blogger. That is for certain. My mind functions in an analytical, scientific manner when it comes to writing. However, this blog series has allowed me to come out of my shell in terms of what words I am “allowed” so say and how I allow myself think. I have discovered that everyone blogs differently, and there isn’t a right or wrong way to blog. I don’t have to produce some twirly whirly creative piece to post, but rather I can take the information I have studied and provide a commentary on it. Doing this has allowed me to really delve into a topic which I am passionate about: the existence of racism in the performing arts.

Throughout this blog series, my goal was to expand my thought process and look beyond superficial, analytical things. Instead of focusing on what could be the very general topic of racism, I focused on racism in the performing arts, specifically on Broadway. By doing this I was able to engage in the topic, and research specific instances and occurrences.

Additionally, I would research things in my free time – for fun. I would find something that interested me, and then I would be intrigued by a certain aspect of that post and ask myself a question that was similar to it, but not directly correlated with it. This enabled me to keep moving from one post to the next without boring myself, and without making it feel choppy. Rather, it felt like one continuous flowing research project that I happened to be submitting for a grade.

I desperately wanted to succeed in this unit. Not necessarily in terms of number grade, but in terms of being satisfied with the way my blog read and felt. In the beginning, I had trouble discovering my voice as a writer, but as time went on, things began to simply flow onto the page and I could write with fluidity. I genuinely appreciated this project a lot, and so I put extra time into it. I knew it was going to be hard for me, so I would just read and read until I had an overwhelming amount to say. Then I would sit down and write, and just remove the unnecessary or repetitive sentences that came from being passionate about my topic.

Having to put my thoughts into a post in a way that was genuine but also still remained true to my blunt, analytical personality was tricky. I learned a lot about how to manage a blog series and how, despite the fact that the other members of my group have different styles of writing, all of our styles are just as valid.

I am proud of the fact that I did not let this project overwhelm me. I continued to tell myself that even though I wasn’t happy with the writing I was doing originally, it would get better the more I worked. I truly feel like I was able to prove something to myself by being successful with this unit.

Finally, being able to access the work of my peers gave me a really neat insight on how my writing differs from those in my group, and in my class a whole. It also was cool to see what ideas people had and what topics mattered most to them, then to see how they reflected.

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What Could Go Wrong with Color-Conscious Casting?

Color-conscious casting is the new star of my blog, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

It rectifies the ever so prominent debate on color-blind casting. Some think it’s the bees knees and others think it is the worst thing ever.

First, I want to bring up the point that the original intent of color-blind casting was indeed to oppose racism, however, it does not accomplish its goal.

As I mentioned in my last article, color-blind casting is almost analogous to what it is trying to achieve. Diversity simply cannot be accomplished if things such as race and ethnicity are overlooked. On the other end, by not acknowledging race in a different manner, such as how those on the other side of the fence may feel, the opportunity for non-traditional casting does not exist.

This is where color-conscious casting swings in and takes the gold. Being color-conscious embraces the cultural and physical differences of those who come from all races and ethnicities, instead of trying to wash them all out and make them all ambiguous to one another. It solidifies the idea that races should be acknowledged and embraced, not ignored.

Here is a clip of one of my absolute songs sung by an incredible performer and an even more powerful ensemble of women backing her up. Try not to feel the feels, I dare you.

The Solution: Color-Conscious Casting

Color-conscious casting.

If you stay up to date with my blog series, you’ll know this method is one I spoke about in my post analyzing the concept of racism in theater as a whole. Well, I am taking the opportunity to speak about it again, because I just can’t get over what a great option it is.

During my research, I have noticed that there are two very strong stances in the theater world:

Those who promote color-blind casting and those who oppose it.

My discovery of color-conscious casting was an ideal way to compromise these two polarized sides.

Additionally, each side alone brings its implications. By not making an effort at all to cast minorities, nothing progressive will be accomplished. Contrastingly, color-blind casting misses the point of diversity by overlooking racial and cultural difference in an ignorant way, rather than accomplishing the goal of embracing these differences and achieving equality.

The videos below have descriptions of why color-consciousness is so vital and why color-blindness breeds racism.

A General Post on Fighting Racism

After doing so much research on racism specifically in the performing arts, I was inclined to learn how I can be opposing racism in my everyday life as well.

I know one of the best ways for me to make an impact on those around me is to first, acknowledge the inherent privilege I have by being a white person.

But I wanted to learn more about when to speak up and take a stand. Remaining silent is just as much of a stance as making racial remarks is, and I wanted to know about what I can do to share my voice against racism and promote equality. I found my answers in the video below. Please enjoy.

Racism On Broadway: The True Battles of the Great (all too) White Way

Racism in the performing arts may not be on the forefront of peoples’ minds in the same way that other forms of racism are; however, this form racism still stands true. For example, seeing an all-white cast of “Anything Goes” may not send people out of a theater in protest as witnessing an Arab American person with incredible skill and eligibility lose a job to their lesser qualified white counterpart would. In order to truly delve into the issue of racism on Broadway, we must first define what we mean.

The issue of racism comes mostly in the casting of a production. A report conducted by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition provides raw statistical evidence for racism witnessed on the Broadway stage.

“On Broadway in the 2014-15 season, numbers for minority actors dropped to 22 percent of all roles from 24 percent the previous year. Despite Asian numbers increasing from 2 percent to 11 percent (largely due to the Lincoln Center revival of The King and I, which was responsible for employing more than half of all Asians hired in the industry) and Latino representation increasing slightly from 1 percent to 2 percent, numbers for African-American actors suffered a severe drop, from 21 percent in the 2013-14 season to only 9 percent in the latest year, one of the worst showings on record and leading to a net loss for the Broadway industry as a whole.”

These numbers help gage the lack of representation of minorities on Broadway, however there is still more racism beyond just these figures.

An article published by The Huffington Post speaks to the racism seen in the casting of the hit Broadway show, Aladdin. The Disney musical production, which is based entirely in the fictional Arabian city of Agrabah, is composed of a 34-person cast which contains absolutely no people of Middle Eastern decent. In defense, the production company claimed to use the method of “colorblind casting.” At this point, the article states:

“Critics of colorblind casting argue that the practice exacerbates, rather than corrects for, the demographic imbalances that already exist in the world of theater.”

Similar to issues experienced in day-to-day life, it must be realized that differences of race and culture should not be overlooked, but rather embraced. The fact that one person’s background differs from another is what brings such diversity and complexity to the world.

I agree that the initial concept of colorblind casting was in an effort to give minorities the opportunity to portray roles that have been traditionally played by white counterparts. In contrast to these original intentions, however, the method of casting has now morphed into an opportunity for white actors to portray non-white characters, as seen in Aladdin.

In doing more research on how to revise this issue of being conscious of color rather than completely ignorant, I happened upon an article which explained just that.

“Color-conscious casting intentionally considers the race and ethnicity of actors and the characters they play in order to oppose racism, honor and respect cultures, foster stronger productions, and contribute to a more equitable world. Without it, we risk perpetuating a system that privileges whiteness with greater access and opportunity, and appropriates the cultures of communities of color.”

I was intrigued to discover this method, after battling mentally with the complications that arose from the initial colorblind movement. It manages to perpetuate the idea that theater is a place for transformation, yet also promotes the fact that not all characters can be portrayed accurately by a white performer, nor do they need to be if they traditionally are.

Throughout my blog series, Hamilton has most certainly popped up every time I research the topic of diversity of Broadway. Similar to Aladdin, Hamilton used a method of casting in order to encourage a diverse cast as well – except this time, it was a forward goal.

Hamilton’s production team issued a casting call for all non-white performers and it stirred up a huge controversy.

castingcall

Was this racist in itself?

During my research, I happened upon an article that discussed exactly that. Additionally, I agreed with practically every point the author made.

“This isn’t a case of reverse racism. This isn’t a case of people of color excluding white people despite bemoaning their own lack of inclusion in media. That’s the whole point. Hamilton has created a space on Broadway for black and brown performers that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Opening up roles designed specifically to be played by performers of color means encroaching on that space.”

This got me thinking of all of the instances I have personally encountered in my hometown, where I go to an audition, read descriptions for roles, and often find the word “Caucasian” glooming at me from on the paper.

Why is this not considered racism?

As I discussed before, the fact of that matter is, some roles are meant to be performed by a certain race for interpretational purposes. However, casting is way past that point.

Jumping back to that casting call produced by the Hamilton team, I am going to focus in on the particular instance where lawyer, Randolph M. McLaughlin, threatened that the release of such a casting call was a violation of New York’s Human Rights Act.

And I quote:

“What if they put an ad out that said, ‘Whites only need apply?’”

Well, you’ve got a big storm coming. Have you seen a casting call before? Now, I will agree with one thing: calling for non-white performers is where the flaw lies. The situation could’ve been altered from the start by calling for minority performers as opposed to stating the performers mustn’t be white.

Sure, I know what you are probably thinking, and I honestly agree. White people can be very hypersensitive, often in a hypocritical manner. The two phrases I mentioned about who to call for the auditions are, point-blank, equivalent in meaning. And quite frankly, considering what America has done regarding the treatment of minorities in almost every setting over the course of the country’s life, it is ridiculous that white people feel threatened one time and it is the end of the world. But the solution to this compromise undoubtedly lies in the wording of the casting call post.

Ok, ok, moving on from Hamilton.

I moved from researching specific shows to researching specific minorites.

Native Americans on Broadway.

Seemed like an issue of underrepresented minorities which goes underrepresented. As I was reading through articles, I came across a series which truly had me giggling. Although, I must say, I was giggling in shock of the true ignorance of people, not about the very frank subject matter.

The first post:

“As I’ve been awaiting for “The New World” to come out in theatres, I’ve been a very Native-centric mood. Does anyone know of men or women of Native American heritage who have been on Broadway?”

The next few posts give answers, providing names of Native American performers who have been seen on the big stage.

Then I happen upon this:

“Kristin Chenoweth is part Cherokee.”

First, let me say that I do not mean to discredit Kristin Chenoweth in her talent or ability, and I especially do not mean to shame her for her decent. However, if you can look at me at tell me that casting Kristin Chenoweth is the equivalent of casting a Native American, I would just laugh at you. By analyzing her appearance only, which is after all what can be noticed from stage, Chenoweth appears as Caucasian, her European genes shining through. Once again, this is not something she or anyone should be ashamed of, however, it is just absurd to say that a Native American person is accurately represented on stage in the casting of Chenoweth.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to bring the focus back to diversity in my hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Over my years of performing with many different theater companies in my town, I can proudly say that in recent years, they have abided by the method of color-conscious casting. There are many people of color in our theater community, and the opportunity for leading roles grows every audition.

Here is a picture of some of the actors from my favorite company in a photo promoting the annual fundraiser it does:

womanless

What a good-looking, diverse, group of guys, am I right??! I am more than proud to say I have performed with each and every one of these actors on stage. Opera House Theatre Company is the company in my town which specifically works to cast in a diverse, color-conscious manner. In two of the shows in our past season, the leads have been held by people of color. In addition, the ensembles of productions are always composed of a diverse blend of races and ethnicities as well.

From the big stages of Broadway in New York City to the humble stages at Thalian Hall in Wilmington, North Carolina, diversity is certainly making its way. But as encouraging as that is, we must also realize the fight is nowhere close to over for equality. I hope my long post about the existence of racism in the performing arts helped you understand the depth and complexity behind this topic. If you have any questions, please comment below.

The Issue of Racism that Occurs Within Creating Diversity

Seems a bit like an oxymoron: racism in diversity.

However, sometimes we overlook what diversity really means. In my previous blog posts, I have focused specifically on black actors in accounting for minority representation on Broadway. But, blacks are clearly not the only minority group who go misrepresented. It as an issue that lies within in all non-white racial and ethnic minorities: blacks, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and many more.

So, from this blog post forward, I will be working to create diversity among diversity, representing all minority groups and their trials and tribulations in the Broadway industry, as opposed to just one. To kick things off, here is a short clip regarding the lack of representation of Asian Americans on Broadway.

Norm Lewis: Breaking Barriers on Broadway

Broadway’s longest running show in history, The Phantom of the Opera took a huge step towards diversity in 2014 by casting its first ever black actor as the title role. Although this may have been monumental for the industry, it is almost simultaneously upsetting that finally casting a black actor created some taboo excitement. The only other black actor to ever play the role is Robert Guillaume, who portrayed the Phantom in Los Angeles in 1990.

What I find so interesting is the fact that although the role does not have a specific color assigned to it, it has always been played by a white actor. Some roles understandably have a necessary race. For example, Huckleberry Finn in Big River and Willie Conklin in Ragtime are white due to the cultural position they must express within the setting of storyline.

Lewis has made history in the industry before; he previously played Javert in Les Misérables, King Triton in The Little Mermaid, and the title role in Sweeney Todd. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Lewis discusses his opinions on whether he believes Broadway is a racist industry. In short, he expresses how categorizing the whole industry as such is simply not possible to do, and additionally, he doesn’t think the majority of existing racism is unintentional.

Despite this “unintentional racism” Lewis refers to, it is still time to grab the bull by its horns and begin casting shows – which aren’t explicitly a certain race – as they should be: by talent and not the color of a person’s skin.

Diversity On Broadway

A rap musical? Sounded a bit weird to me, not going to lie. None the less, I was intrigued.

After a rehearsal one night, my sister and I hopped into the car and turned on the cast album of Hamilton.

TEARS. Actual tears were streaming down our faces by the time we weren’t even through the first full song.

Hamilton is unbelievable with its ability to captivate an audience with such ease and then maintain that sense of longing for the entirety of the performance – whether you be there in person, or hearing it through the speakers of your mom’s Honda civic.

However, Hamilton does something even more special – beyond music.

The video below features one of Hamilton‘s own, Leslie Odom Jr., and other Broadway stars as they discuss the ever present issue of diversity on Broadway, an issue brought center stage by the ground-breaking production.

An Introduction to the Startling Lack of Racial Diversity in Performing Arts

Especially after the development of the most recent presidential election in the United States, racism and racial inequality have been particularly hot topics for a majority of Americans. Taking a sociological standpoint, this blog series will focus on the topic of racial diversity – or rather, lack there of – specifically in the performing arts industry, ranging from the misrepresentation of minority racial groups in media, to the concept of racially-blind casting in various productions.

Racial diversity is very significant in its controversial manner and relevancy in modern performing arts all over the world, including in local performances in North Carolina. This blog will shed light on these issues, bringing up specific instances of both when racial diversity has been accomplished within the cast and when it has not. It will also discuss the many different opinions of theater-going audience members, casting directors, actors, and actresses regarding the issue.

Below is a picture from the critically acclaimed, Tony-award winning Broadway musical, Hamilton, which has recently been in the spotlight. This attention has not only been earned due to its groundbreaking script and score, but also for extremely racially diverse cast. It has created a platform for the issue of racial discrimination in the casting process, forming an excellent opportunity for people to discuss the issue in an open setting.

Image result for hamilton broadway

photo via: http://variety.com/t/hamilton/

Despite the efforts of many people to set racism and lack racial diversity to rest, they are still abundant in everyday life, the discussion of which is an important one to be had. By focusing on the existence of these issues in the performing arts specifically, this blog aims to create an opportunity for the open discussion and analysis of their existence.

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