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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Color Blind

People always say that most shows are now cast color blindly.
They say......

I guess it's easier said than done. Always the case.

I mean, I kinda understand. You would always want to cast what the audience expect to see. It would be weird for the cast of DREAMGIRLS or SISTER ACT to be entirely white ain't it.
For instance, that time when I was called back for Velma in Chicago. I should I have known that I will never get cast because I do not look the part. I'm not being pessimistic here. I'm just realistic about that fact.
They say it's color blind casting. They say...

And yes, being such a specific type, unfortunately it does suck.

Today, I went for a chorus call for Hairspray. 300+ girls were present and finally the monitor said,
"Well we are actually looking for beautiful black women. So if you don't fit the type..." 
He need not go on.

The girls were pissed. almost 90% of them left. In fact, I was about to leave until the monitor came back in and said to my friends and I, "Don't go anywhere. Call your friends. There's been a miscommunication."

I just laughed. Everyone around me was pissed. I'm so darn used to being the only Asian in the room that getting typed out is like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for me. How do you think I feel?

Honestly, numb.

So apparently, they had a 'miscommunication' after stating the fact that they have cast all the other roles and are only looking for beautiful black women. Was it really miscommunication or did they regret doing what they did by turning down 300 girls and maybe ruining the company's reputation? I wonder.

Either or, I stayed and managed to get seen for the dance call.

Honestly, I thought I did great. The choreography was simple and my kicks were higher than the girls who got called back. However, unlike the other groups which got to perform at least twice, mine only got to perform once. Kinda unfair. My guess was that they looked at our headshots and put us 'non appropriate types' in a group and just asked us to dance once, just for the sake of dancing.

Owh well, this is life ain't it?


Why Colorblind Casting Should be a One-Way Street

In May 2007, filmmaker/ playwright Neil LaBute (The Shape of Things) wrote a controversial op-ed for the Los Angeles Timesabout colorblind casting in the theater. He argued that everyone, including white actors, should be able to play whatever part they want regardless of race.

“For most white actors today, roles of color — from the classics to some of the sensational writing that is currently being done for the theater — are not even an option for them (because of their race), and I’m not sure why,” LaBute writes. “If someone does allow me to mount my all-white version of A Raisin in the Sun — then please let us proceed.”
The issue of colorblind casting has been on my mind recently because my theater company is mounting an all-Asian American version of the Tennessee Williams classic Suddenly, Last Summer.
Colorblind casting maintains that any actor, regardless of race, should be allowed to play any role. Usually it is applied to a minority actor playing a role that is not written for that minority.
LaBute argues that colorblind casting should be a “two-way street,” and white actors should be able to play Othello or sing the lead in Madame Butterfly. In the past, white people have played many of these roles, but LaBute laments that in our more politically correct climate that is no longer possible, and that’s a shame.
In a perfect world, any actor should be allowed to play any part. But we live in a flawed world where race still matters and racism, no matter how subtle, still rears its ugly head. Until things become truly equitable for all, colorblind casting should remain a one-way street. Until it is common occurrence to see minority faces on stage, on the big and small screens, playing non-race specific roles as in a Shakespeare or a David Mamet play or tackling characters like Indiana Jones or Spiderman, white actors should not be taking roles meant for minorities. It is hard enough for actors of color to book anything of substance without having Brad Pitt or Reese Witherspoontake away the few available opportunities.
At the heart of the argument that white actors should be able to play minority parts is a subtle racism that is also at the heart of opposition to affirmative action programs. The underlying foundation of this school of thought is that white people are better and more talented, i.e. we can’t let “those people” onto our most prestigious stages or into our finest schools because they’re not as good as us.
Some people (including Asians) have told me that it is “weird” to imagine Asians tackling the Southern accents and embodying that specific Southern culture in a Tennessee Williams play. These comments don’t have malicious intentions or come from uneducated hicks. But it shows that even among some enlightened Americans, the idea that things are completely equitable — that an audience will accept a Batman played by John Cho — is a long way off. And until that day comes, the thought of a white cast “yellowing it up” in a David Henry Hwang play is more than offensive.
Philip W. Chung is a writer and co-artistic director of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, whose staging of Suddenly, Last Summer runs until August 24 at GTC Burbank in Burbank, Calif. For more info: Check outlodestonetheatre.org.


Currently starring as Boq in the Chicago production of Wicked, Telly's Broadway credits include Flower Drum Song, and Pacific Overtures (on which he also appears on the cast recording). Outside of New York, he's appeared as Simon in Jesus Christ Superstar (Music Circus), Thuy in Miss Saigon (PCLO), Lun Tha in The King and I (starring Lou Diamond Phillips), and Dolph in But, I'm a Cheerleader!
You're the first non-Caucasian to play the role of Boq. Do you think color blind casting is more prevalent on Broadway, or are there still barriers?

First off, let me take this opportunity to applaud the creative team and producers of Wicked for being at the forefront of non-traditional casting. Because of the fantastic nature of the show (who says that everyone in Oz is Caucasian?), Wicked has always been a show that has always cast non-traditionally and included many minority actors in their companies. Derrick Williams is an African-American Fiyero. Aaron Albano (who is Filipino) is a Boq understudy on the tour. Both the standby and the understudy for Elphaba on Broadway right now are African-American. And now, I am cast as the first Asian-American Boq. It is my hope that other Broadway shows will follow in Wicked's shoes – that every actor regardless of race is seriously considered in the casting process.

I try to stay optimistic with regards to the future of non-traditional casting on Broadway, but there is a double standard that exists for Asian roles in music theatre. It is perfectly acceptable for an actress like Juanita Hall or Lillias White to play Bloody Mary in South Pacific, or for Jonathan Pryce to play the Engineer in Miss Saigon. However, an Asian actor like myself would never be considered for a role in Dreamgirls or Fiddler on the Roof. Shows like King and I, Hairspray, and Showboat deal with issues of race and should be cast race-specifically. Yet, this double standard exists that takes Asian roles away from Asian actors.


Then again, I'm just one small minority voice speaking compared to the other billions of voices that matter more.

Who fault is it that you are not born with blonde hair, blue eyes, long legs, and huge boobs?

Color blind casting will never be true and that's a fact in life that I will have to bite the bullet and accept.

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