Musings on Race in Theatre

Originally posted on JohMyWord by Joash Musundi

At the end of last year, a report commissioned by Andrew Lloyd Webber released a statement regarding the diversity of actors on stage. You can find more about the report here, but it is safe to say that theatre could stand to be more diverse.

Race in musical theatre is a massive topic, and in this era of Hamilton, and Black Lives Matter discussions on race are not due to quiet down anytime soon. Dissertations have been written about race and its place in musical theatre from multiple angles so there is a lot to say about the conversation.
Because of this, I am not exactly a fan of people treating it like one big problem that has one big solution. The topic has many layers from the roles of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) creators and actors, to the ethnicities of the characters, and how the characters represent certain ethnic groups and many, many more intersections. And to be honest, I am only really gonna talk about one aspect here briefly.

Image result for hamilton

People often say colour-blind casting is the way forward and I kind of agree. Based on my own lived experience I believe that we do not live in a colour blind society. By that, I mean that people notice race, and race (like most things in this world) comes with certain associations/connotations, and so on. Because of this, I feel like “racially nonspecific casting” should be the chosen terminology. This implies that a role may not require a certain race, but there is not an element of ignoring the race of whomever is cast.

For example, if the Witch in Into The Woods were to be a different race to the other characters, that could help highlight one of the themes in the show, which is understanding the “Other”. However, the narrative is not hurt and the themes are not lost if the cast is racially homogeneous or incredibly diverse.

Alternately racially non-specific casting does not always call for such reinterpretation and, in all honesty, it would just be nice to have the diversity of the society we live in to be reflected in the media we consume.

Finally, I would like to urge people to listen to those of a different lived experience. I can only really speak a black male who is a fan of theatre, so my experience is limited to that. To learn about the experiences of people of different ethnic groups is to listen to them when they speak about this. And hopefully engaging in these conversations will help us move forward.

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