Opening up the Canon: Cross-gender and Non-traditional Casting

51 Percent Preparedness Plan Final 11-21-14 copy

Rebecca’s Blog

Experience with students

(headshot experiment – all white)

“I guess we just did the easy thing”

Casting diversely is better for the art – it’s about relevance, representation, who is in your audience and who you want to have in your audience, standing the test of time


Part 2: Casting for Justice

Different types of casting

Traditional casting: white male default casting; as blank slate

“Blind” casting: Rebecca would like to see that term go away

–There are connotations to everything we see

–Casting the best actor for the role – who’s the decider? – there may be a bias

Non-traditional casting or “Intentional” casting – think about what it means if the only black character is playing Caliban

Sub categories:

–Casting the way things are; i.e. Measure for Measure

–The way we wish things could be; Julie Taymoor’s Midsummer

–Casting the opposites i.e. Patrick Stewart’s Othello


What’s next? The Pipeline

–Dismissed the idea that there was a pipeline problem “actors of color are harder to find”

–Less of a problem in the Bay Area, but still an issue

–Do you really have a pipeline problem?

–If you do: what is the company doing to cause us to have this particular problem? Salaries, where are you looking (MFA programs, going to shows), do you travel or only cast locally, do you recruit millenials, how diverse are your education programs, male teaching artists, coach young actors, question your own judgment (i.e. a male director directing Shrew could have a female assistant director)

–Quotas – why? Did it to hold myself accountable

–Try and make some kind of commitment – what can it be as a company?

–Check out census data


Lisa Wolpe

We don’t see all the people we live with onstage


Women want to play everything and we can

There is no lack of brilliant talented people who can play these roles in the world

You are the decider

Directing a gender-flipped Revenger’s Tragedy – diverse cast

Some cross-gender rehearsing requires technique

Plays are written in heteronormative binary but they are being broken open

How do you revolutionize the community?


Video on twenty years of all-female work to cross-gender work

Men playing women had to hold the room for the whole show

Added 11 undergraduates

Change male silhouette to female so they can play the roles (not re-gendered)

Difference in male and female movement – Vincent Patterson


Increased visibility internationally is important


51% Preparedness Plan for the American Theatre

Commit to goal over next 5 yrs of reaching

51% artists and production personnel will be people of color, women, or under 35 years of age

Those that do not should not be able to use the word diverse

All funders should consider funding only those theatres that have achieved at least one of the levels

By 2023 more than half of all American children will be POC

Over 60% of theatre-goers are women

Why have larger theatres been slow to respond? Vast majority of theatres, subscriber base is overwhelmingly white and rapidly aging


How much to push?

Do not give all the white guys the equity contracts first


Philippa Kelly

Hold the mirror up to nature

Constantly looking at plays from new angles keeps them alive and flexible

How does diversity relate to dramaturgs?

Basic questions – what do we think of diversity as a term

Inclusivity, dominant ethnicity, apology – closed words for a dramaturg

Theatre is a journey from emotion to emotion

Turn these words into active, questioning practice

A director asks, what does this play mean to me? What do I wish to say?

As dramaturgs, our task is to help and suggest in this thinking

Diversity is grounded in inequalities that must be named

Rethinking power

In a truly diverse theatre, everyone has a part and we listen (this is a difficult one because theatre are still structured in a top-down way)


What do we pay attention to when we listen and how do we frame what we hear?

How do we know if a play is worthy or not?

Shakespeare is fruitful for diversity because he bears 400 yrs of history that we have as we watch i.e. a gender-flipped Iago

We still live in a world with a plague, with zealots, where our own people in power have been said to use guns to eradicate people of color (like Prospero shuts away Caliban)

Diversity is allowed onstage


The nature we’re seeing now is a far more diverse one

Is the casting of that person of color or gender brining a different point of view?

How are we going to make it reflect

i.e. Merchant of Venice – have a Jewish person play Shylock, you are able to keep some of the language

What do you cut?

Cut lines that take you out of the dramatic moment (i.e. “blaspheming Jew” in Macbeth)

Dramaturg is looking at words, phrases, passages with “what makes this most potent when we look in today’s mirror?”

Try not to rehabilitate Shakespeare

Where is the dramatic energy? Use reaction – don’t pretend this writer is not 400 years old


Where does gender fit in?

Will women do good and convincing jobs cast in men’s roles?

Production of Queen Lear – recast daughters as sons

Helen Mirren as Prospero revitalized not only her role but other roles she played with and against


Listening to a song through the freight of history


Book mentioned in discussion: Female Bodies on the American Stage


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