Color blind casting necessary for playwrights

JAKE GAY, Reporter


     Interest in Broadway and theater is back on the rise with plays and musicals including Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Beetlejuice and To Kill a MockingBird  bringing in unprecedented amounts of money and people into their theaters.  However, when the spotlight comes, so does controversy, and Broadway has not escaped this reality.

        Recently, there has been a growing debate on the representation of historical figures and how big of a role ethnicity should play in keeping these productions historically accurate. Currently there are three presidents portrayed in Hamilton (George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson) and all of the actors playing the presidents are African-American. This has caused some critics to think that the show is plainly not being historically accurate and the presidents are unjustly being represented.     

         For the Grammy, Pulitzer Prize and Tony winner smash hit of a musical, the directors of Hamilton have been color conscious casting since the show’s arrival to the stage in 2015. Lin-Manuel Miranda is  the shows playwright, creator and lyricist he has said that “making America as it was by using America as it looks now is completely necessary in the show.” 

      Miranda also has told “In ‘Hamilton, we’re telling the stories of old, dead white men, but we’re using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience.”

     This statement has never been more true; the show is perhaps the most historically accurate production on Broadway and the actors’ ethnicity shouldn’t factor into the show’s credibility or message.  In the years to come when the show is available for high schools to perform, should directors tell talented kids that the only reason they may not play the role is due to the fact that they are not the same race as the historical figures?

     If anything, casting this way celebrates the difference in race, and celebrates the growth of America and American politics.

        The stage is a place for actors to escape themselves and completely consume themselves into their roles. Criticizing musical companies for not casting “historically accurate” is completely unneeded and unjust. 

         When you walk and sit in a theater you are asked to open your mind and be completely vulnerable to the story. Those who are not willing to open their mind are missing the intent of theater. “Color conscious casting” is the most progressive step any production can take in selecting actors for their shows. For too long many good actors have been unable to play roles due to society saying they couldn’t.

      No one leaves Hamilton feeling disappointed in the representation of 200-year-old figures. And there’s countless reasons for this:  the amazing acting, the compelling orchestration, the amazing dancing. And it’s all accomplished in a completely unprecedented way. 

     These debates stem much farther than the stages in the United States. Recently “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling was bombarded with complaints when black actress Noma Dumezweni was cast to play the character Hermione in the highly anticipated play that is set to take the stage in London. Has the world not progressed to see that a fictional character? Hermonie  isn’t described in the original stories, meaning that possibly Emma Watson is the wrong representation of the wizard.

     Those who say it’s wrong for an actor to play something they aren’t, are clearly unaware that in prior history (including Shakespearian times) males often played women. That’s right.  A man uttered the words “Oh Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo,” to another man.  

Change is good, whether it’s in a theater or not. So let’s spend less time speculating about how to go back to how it used to be, and instead let us celebrate how far we’ve come.