Will the Actor's Equity Report Be a Wake Up Call? Or Will it be Ignored?
Yesterday, the New York times reported on the Actors' Equity Jobs Study which was released a month earlier. We did a series of articles when the report was released in May when it came to the gap in pay among female stage managers as well as the jarring statistics when it comes to the casting of performers of color. I don't know what took the Times so long to report of this, but that's not the point.
The point is, that with their article yesterday, the report was given a much-needed spotlight on the real issue of casting equality in the theatre industry.
If you haven't read the report, it found that between 2013-15 70% of Equity Musical contracts went to Caucasian performers, 65% for Equity Play contracts. The highest amount of employment for non-White performers were African-Americans at 7.56% and 8.63% respectively. Neither Asians or Latinos rose above 2.5%.
Using AEA's own words, those numbers are an embarrassment. But this isn't news for performers of color, but more a validation of what we've been saying for years. So the question now becomes, what can be done about this?
Casting equality doesn't mean tipping the scale to favor performers of color(POC's) but it does require a balance. Too many times roles with no race requirement are typically given to white performers. Take for instance this year's Tony nominees. In the musical male acting categories, not a single role required that the actor be white, yet all the actors who played them were. I'm not saying that these actors didn't deserve the roles they were cast in, but I am saying that anyone of any other race could have been cast.
And there is where the challenge lies.
We need casting directors and creative teams to look closer at who can play these roles and be more inclusive in the casting process. We need directors to stop using non-traditional casting as some sort of stunt and normalize the image of performers of color on stage in roles that make no mention of race. We need to eliminate the term "color-blind casting" because it still favors white actors and disregards the needed thought process when casting performers of color. Yes, I want to see more POC's on stage but I agree that there are many roles in which only one race can play. I want to see more opportunities for POC's but I also agree that suspension of disbelief can only go so far.
At the same time, I don't want to see any rules or regulations handed down by governing bodies requiring that POC's be cast in lead roles. Again, we're talking about balancing the scale, not tipping it in the opposite direction.
On a positive note, I've seen some improvements on the horizon. Next spring's revival of "Carousel" stars Black Actor Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow and out-of-town tryout casts of shows like "Spongebob Squarepants" are quite diverse. Also planned revivals of "Once on this Island" and "M Butterfly" will also help Broadway's diversity.
But a couple of shows on Broadway with diverse ensembles isn't going to solve the problem. I do hope that producers and directors take this report as a wake-up call and not dismiss it as just some useless statistic.