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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: March ::
Re: Casting
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0199  Monday, 9 March 1998.

[1]     From:   Walter Golman <
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        Date:   Saturday, 7 Mar 1998 17:09:09 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Cross-color and -ethnic casting

[2]     From:   Pat Dolan <
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        Date:   Sunday, 8 Mar 1998 12:31:05 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0194  Re: Casting

[3]     From:   Laura Fargas <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Mar 1998 01:00:53 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0194  Re: Casting


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Walter Golman <
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Date:           Saturday, 7 Mar 1998 17:09:09 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Cross-color and -ethnic casting

Where the physical appearance of an actor conflicts sharply with the
general conception of the role, the audience would probably find it less
disruptive if the actor made some attempt to fit the character. An
attempt is all that is needed, like the makeup applied by, say, Ronald
Coleman as Othello or as (I have read) Canada Lee, who appeared in
whiteface in at least one stage play.

Partial makeup would, I think, be accepted by the audience as a
theatrical convention, in much the same way as the black-clothed
stagehands are invisible to us when they change sets. If Patrick Stewart
had worn a modicum of dark makeup, we would have been less startled to
hear him say, "Haply, for I am black..."  There is surely no need for a
total transformation of the actor, merely enough to suggest the color to
the audience.

Naturally, this applies only to characters whose physical appearance is
important to the role.

As for cross-ethnic casting: I remember with fondness the performance of
the Yiddish actor, Joseph Buloff, as Willy Loman in  Death of a
Salesman. The play, done in Yiddish in an entirely Jewish context,
worked well.[One critic praised the performance but found it necessary
to add that Arthur Miller had (whether he knew it or not) conceived the
play in Yiddish and then translated it mentally into English. The proof
that this was an essentially Jewish story? The familial conflict! As far
as I know, Mr. Miller has never known about these details of his
creative process.]

The success of this play as a tragedy with universal appeal has been
proved by the variety of cultural contexts in which it has been
presented, just as long as the presentation has not jarred the
expectations of the audience.

- Walter Golman, University of Maryland - College Park

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Dolan <
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Date:           Sunday, 8 Mar 1998 12:31:05 -0500
Subject: 9.0194  Re: Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0194  Re: Casting

It strikes me that the current thread on casting has as much to do with
audience beliefs about what's "essential" to human beings (first) and
(then) characters in plays. For instance, those who insist that Othello
must be played as a "black" man and Iago as a "white" would probably not
object to a black actor whose skin color was in fact lighter than that
of the white actor who played Iago. At this point we come to the
question "What's white?" And it seems clear to me that what's white now
differs enormously from what white was in 1600. No one, for a start, had
formulated the one drop rule.

The actor who plays Othello will probably be far taller than the white
actor who played him the first time. He will undoubtedly have much
straighter teeth. This is not something that bothers me. And if Patrick
Stewart's delivery of the lines and his movements on the stage convince
me, then he works as Othello.

It may be harder in the case of Othello since the dialogue thematicizes
blackness in ways that other plays don't. But again, that's a 1600
blackness, not ours, so it doesn't seem to me intrinsically impossible
to do the play paying little attention to skin tone.

I think that some younger people on this list will have seen color-blind
(if that's the word) casting since they began seeing theater.  And I'll
bet this is less of an issue for people who have been formed as an
audience for whom race is a less essential component of a theatrical
character than, say, those of us who went to grade school in Texas in
the early sixties. (Yeah, I know, I'm a bit of a Pollyanna, but this is
in haste.)

Has anyone seen James Earl Jones do Lear? If he did it as well as I
think he could, all the milky white daughters in the world wouldn't stop
me from inhabiting that voice as Lear's.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Laura Fargas <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Mar 1998 01:00:53 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 9.0194  Re: Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0194  Re: Casting

Larry Weiss says "a white Othello is not the play Shakespeare wrote."
Who exactly do we think originated that role?  I don't remember any
persons of African descent among the Lord Chamberlain's Men, so what is
"Shakespeare's Othello"?  A white guy in black face, Paul Robeson,
Patrick Stewart in his own native hue?  If that's going to be the basic
objection, one could say that neither is a female Ophelia the play
Shakespeare wrote.

Laura Fargas
 

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