A couple of years ago, I got into it with a president of a local community theatre. I had started to notice that their six show season always consisted of five shows with either all-white casts or leads with one show being predominantly diverse with Black, Asian or Latinx roles. For example, their year would be Legally Blonde, Death of a Salesman, The Sound of Music, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Hairspray/In the Heights/The King and I.Read More
I know everyone has had their struggles in theatre. Even if you are the most talented, stunningly fit, and beautiful person on this earth, let's face it - none of us are perfect. I want to tell you my personal struggle. I’m writing this because I want to face reality and also, I know I’m not alone.Read More
Oh, The Fantasticks. You miserable, outdated, charmless relic, rife with a bumper crop of rape “jokes,” ableism and horrifying racial stereotypes that would make a sane person want to dive under their seat in fremdschämen. In the Year of Our Lord 2018, someone thought it would be a genius idea to invite a group of 40 high school age Native students to a performance of The Fantasticks at the University of Wyoming...and NOT warn them.
We are familiar with the repellent days of “blacking up” – the disabled actors’ equivalent is “cripping up”, a term used by acting activists to highlight that it is not acceptable for a non-disabled actor to mimic impairments, then win an Oscar.
The acting union Equity has said that in casting “disabled” roles, “every avenue” should be considered to cast a disabled actor. Yet the challenges for disabled actors and the representation of a disability experience in film are not isolated to casting. Fundamental barriers to auditioning limit spaces for disabled actors; for those who do get work, it is still mostly for disabled roles written by non-disabled writers, which may present stereotypical or unrepresentative characters.Read More
The theatrical industry is, on the surface, seen as an inclusive environment full of openly accepting members who desire to experience the same kind of public appreciation an eighth- grade version of myself so desperately craved. As a young artist, it has only taken me less than a handle of auditions and feedback to realize that theatre was not the fat girl’s sport.
If you speak to the choreographer, they’d say that it’s visually unappealing to have an uneven amount of “heavier” people on the stage than the other. If you speak to the costume designer, they say that it’s more difficult to create flattering costumes for the “common figure” a fat girl carries. If you look in the ensemble of a majority of running musicals, you will rarely find anyone that doesn’t fit an “average” body type to the production staff’s discretion.Read More
There are many things you could say about who I am as a person. You could say that I love the art of theatre, especially playwriting and still occasionally acting. Or you could say that beyond theatre and writing, I am also a die-hard fan of The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Batman and Harry Potter who is severely addicted to caffeine. (Although I will add that if that’s the worst thing I’m addicted to, I’d say I’m in relatively good shape.) Or more recently, you could also say that I am a writer here at On Stage who writes columns and occasional reviews that are read by a fairly large audience of theatre lovers that is growing every day. Those are just a few basic and important facts about me that are especially important for anyone who cares to know what kind of person I am.Read More
I am an actor. That being said, I also consider myself to be an introvert. This has caused confusion among people who only know me from endeavours outside of the theatrical world. Telling people about the show I’m in, or that I’d like to pursue a career in theatre often leads to responses like “You know, actors have to talk a lot right?” or “You’re going to have to learn to be more outgoing if you want to do that.” I never really know how to respond to this, or where to start, as these people probably have misunderstandings in two areas. One being what introversion really is and the other being what being a performer really entails.Read More
I have been trying to be better about learning about Native American culture and stories, and one of the primary ways I learn about anything is reading. I've had "Seventh Generation: An Anthology of Native American Plays" for years, and it was my slow read over the course of this past November, a month I traditionally set aside for Native American stories. And what did I learn? Native American culture is alive and vibrant in theatre. Unfortunately, it is also almost invisible.Read More
Most people don't often think of horror and musicals together. The two niches just don't seem to really match. And yet, throughout history, and since the birth of the musical in the late 1800s, we've actually seen a number of famous musicals that were based on horror stories. First, a little defining of terms are in order.Read More
A theatre community just north of Dallas, TX was left reeling last week with the news that a local theatre had knowingly allowed a convicted sex offender to work on shows involving teenager performers.Read More
This weekend I had the pleasure to see both “Come from Away” and “Dear Evan Hanson.” Rest assured, this piece isn’t a review on either (or both) shows because if you’re reading this, you probably already know the main plot points to each. Instead, this is to highlight how casting people of color makes sense in virtually ANY scenario of ANY show.Read More
In a recent article in Theatermania about children performing on Broadway, Zachary Stewart asserts, “... and while I'm sympathetic to the call for representation of all types of people onstage, I don't think it needs to be perfectly literal. Ultimately, by insisting on actual kids to play kids, we're encouraging unimaginative storytelling for unimaginative audiences.”
They even went as far as saying child performers aren’t worthy of earning Tony Awards.
I wholeheartedly disagree with his assumptions from the standpoint of not only an audience member but also as a mother of three professional, child actors working in the industry for over ten years.
I can say for sure, that as a child, I would not have enjoyed seeing an adult actor playing Orphan Annie or Mary Lennox or Little Red or Oliver. When I saw those shows, and when I see shows with children in the cast now, I want to connect with the innocence of a child and the childlike realness that she or he brings to the character. I enjoy hearing childlike voices and their timbre singing the songs that are written in keys to capturing their wonder and possibility. This is undoubtedly not unimaginative, yet the opposite. I would not have enjoyed adults playing kids in Runaways, which was recently at The Delacorte this past summer after playing Off-Broadway at New York City Center two years ago. My young teenage son could bring a depth, connection, and understanding to the role that a grown person could not.
I find it difficult to accuse the late Elizabeth Swados of “unimaginative storytelling,” or for that matter Sam Pinkleton or The Public Theater who chose to cast children and teens to represent them at their annual gala this past year. The same could be said for the creatives of Billy Elliot, or The King and I, or A Christmas Story, or even Macbeth where the murder of a child is best represented by a child. ( My children have had the good fortune to be in all of these shows.) Many stories cannot be told properly without children being a part of the storytelling. No amount of “imagination” is going to change that.
The argument could be that this is work, and it is just unethical to allow children to work. Anyone who knows any Broadway children and families personally will know that when children are as passionate as these kids are, the most ethical and moral thing to do as a parent is to help them pursue their passions. Broadway children are akin to Olympic athletes. They have a drive and motivation that is hard to contain. We would not thwart our young chess champ or violin prodigy; so why would we stop a child who is capable of the juggling and balance that professional performing requires? And yes, each show is different in the way children are treated backstage, but I can assure you, no child is doing this who does not love it! It is not possible because a child works two full-time jobs when he is on Broadway, and this takes discipline and focus, but it does not mean childhood is lost.
Every family that I have met over the years focuses on keeping the balance for their children). It just isn’t what it seems like to the outside world. Ninety-nine percent of the kids who work on stage are the most humble, hard-working people you will ever meet. It is wrong even to imply that time in a Broadway show could somehow make any child actors divas or that “... done wrong, you can find some zonked-out robots who sound like they've been media-trained by Stepford Wives...” as quoted by Hayley Levitt in the same article in Theatermania. Quite the opposite is true. Reporting this kind of stereotype, even saying that it may only happen occasionally, perpetuates the idea of Mama Rose and the unwilling child actor. I know over 50 child actors, many who have sat in my home studying for tests, writing music, planning benefit concerts, singing karaoke, baking cupcakes for the Broadway Flea Market...just being genuinely good people.
Did performing in a show harm those kids or enrich their lives? Did having them in the show enhance the performance or hinder it? Did the life skills that child actors gained of: time management, delaying gratification, self-motivation, patience, problem-solving, collaboration, innovation, creativity, fortitude, cooperation, and self-sacrifice contribute to the building blocks of their character? As my youngest child, William Poon said, “Kids need to be played by kids. Kids can do this.” He knows as well as anyone even at age twelve, having been on the international tour of Beauty and the Beast and then playing a royal child in The King and I at Lincoln Center all the while juggling third and fourth grades.
Kids in Broadway shows are a special breed for all the right reasons, and they should continue to be an integral part of the Broadway community and bring a realness to the stage that only youth can afford.
If race isn't a factor in the character description, then anyone should be able to play it. Right?
A theatre company based in Seattle is doing just that with their upcoming concert productions of Legally Blonde by casting a black actress in the lead role of Elle Woods. Accomplished actress Alexandria Henderson is taking the reigns of the popular role for the SHOWTUNES production opening later this month.Read More
How do you audition someone’s sexuality? That comes up for me more times than I am comfortable with. I am a director who, when given the choice, works on plays and musicals that are queer-themed stories with non-straight characters. As a gay man myself it is also very important to me that I get to work with other queer identifying artists both on and off stage. But, how do I go about getting that information during the auditions process?Read More
While I might question why a school with zero Latin students are performing the definitive Latin musical of the 21st Century, I had to tell the mother that this wasn't an issue because the creators of the show don't have a problem with it. In fact, they encourage it.Read More
I could honestly talk your ear off for days about my love for Head over Heels, which opened on Broadway on July 26th at the Hudson Theatre directed by Tony Award Winner Michael Mayer featuring the music of The Go-Go’s, but I wanted to point out one of the stories being told in this fun, original musical. That is the story of Mopsa and PamelaRead More
Diversity and Inclusion is something I am very passionate about. I believe creating new works that are intersectional in this political climate is a way we can fight for what is right and help heal the divide in our country. I also believe we can make shows of yore accessible to today’s public by giving a voice to groups of people normally not identified with such shows.
This is exactly what National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO) is doing with their latest production of Shakespeare’s Henry VI. Not only is it an all-Asian cast but it’s amazing how a play a few hundred of years old is still incredibly relevant today.Read More
“I wanted to do a project on SPAM® because I think it’s a really perfect symbol of sort of the Asian-American identity. You know it’s this like this super American iconic product yet somehow super marginalized in the country and really embraced by Asian people and integrated into Asian cuisine. So that’s why I called the project Specially Processed American Me, a play on the acronym specially processed American meat for SPAM®, to talk about that.”Read More