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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Color-Blind Casting
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1131  Tuesday, 15 May 2001

[1]     From:   Pat Dolan <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 May 2001 12:30:55 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1116 Re: Color-Blind Casting

[2]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 May 2001 13:09:20 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1116 Re: Color-Blind Casting

[3]     From:   Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 04:32:51 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1116 Re: Color-Blind Casting


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Dolan <
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Date:           Monday, 14 May 2001 12:30:55 -0500
Subject: 12.1116 Re: Color-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1116 Re: Color-Blind Casting

>We attend the dramatic theater to be caught up in the action
>on stage and, therefore, willingly suspend our disbelief that it is all
>a fiction.

I don't. Equally important, I think there's ample reason to suppose that
the audience response to Shakespeare's plays was more complex, less
"realist" than this.

Further, it's hard for me to imagine that anyone who sees Shakespeare in
the theatre these days gets so "caught up" that he/she loses track of
the fact that it's Shakespeare up there on the stage and that figure
requires a certain set of expectations and responses.

Saying "we" here begs several very important, fascinating questions.

The main point, that there are different conventions in opera and early
modern theatre, is a good one. But to suggest that there's either
operatic response or suspension of disbelief is too digital a way of
looking at it.

Pat

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Monday, 14 May 2001 13:09:20 -0500
Subject: 12.1116 Re: Color-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1116 Re: Color-Blind Casting

Larry Weiss wrote,

>It is fallacious to compare the conventions of one art form with that of
>another.  We attend the dramatic theater to be caught up in the action
>on stage and, therefore, willingly suspend our disbelief that it is all
>a fiction.  We attend operas, on the other hand, to be enthralled by the
>music and thrilled by the spectacle.  It is almost impossible to
>surrender enough disbelief to swallow the improbable libretti of most
>operas.  In the U.S.  and U.K. we do not even understand most of them,
>even if they are sung in English.  --  How many opera fans can pick out
>the words sung by four singers in mixed quartets, or even catch most of
>the words of a G&S patter song.  As Gilbert noted in Ruddigore, "This
>particularly rapid unintelligible patter isn't generally heard, and if
>it is it doesn't matter." -- Therefore, while a dumpy overweight
>Violetta would be a hindrance in a dramatic version of The Lady of the
>Camellias, she does no harm at all in La Traviata, provided she can sing
>well enough.

At best, the differences would seem to be a matter of degree rather than
of kind.   By report, Madame Bernhardt, age 70 or above, rather
successfully played Juliet - and Hamlet.  Our powers of suspension of
disbelief would seem to be somewhat like an endless bungee line; we
finally see what is presented rather than the presenter - certainly
every actor and diva hope for that.

      L. Swilley

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 04:32:51 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 12.1116 Re: Color-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1116 Re: Color-Blind Casting

I am thinking as hard as I can about how I can drag this post back to
Shakespeare and color-blind casting.  Maybe something will come to me as
I write.  Or maybe not.  Oh well.

Larry Weiss writes:

>It is fallacious to compare the conventions of one
>art form with that of
>another.

Ok, I'll buy that.  However, some art forms share conventions.  And the
conventions of some overlap. And there is hardly widespread agreement
about what those conventions are in the first place.  For example, when
Larry writes that

>We attend the dramatic theater to be
>caught up in the action
>on stage and, therefore, willingly suspend our
>disbelief that it is all
>a fiction.  We attend operas, on the other hand, to
>be enthralled by the
>music and thrilled by the spectacle.

Perhaps the rhetorical "we" in these statements might more accurately
have been an "I".  Some people, perhaps not so many today, in "the
West", but certainly in various other cultures and societies and in
various times in the past, have attended the dramatic theater in order
to be thrilled by the spectacle.  Similarly, ESPECIALLY now, there is a
decided trend in some operatic productions to emphasize the dramatic, so
that (ideally) the music becomes an integral part of "being caught up in
the action" and the "willing suspension of belief."

>It is almost
>impossible to
>surrender enough disbelief to swallow the improbable
>libretti of most
>operas.

SOME operas, certainly.  Most?  Maybe, but opera didn't end with Verdi
and Wagner -- many contemporary composers and librettists continue to
produce vibrant works in which the plots are not especially improbable.

>In the U.S.  and U.K. we do not even
>understand most of them,
>even if they are sung in English.  --  How many
>opera fans can pick out
>the words sung by four singers in mixed quartets, or
>even catch most of
>the words of a G&S patter song.

Uh, I can.  If it is in French, which is one of my languages.  Or if it
is in English AND performed by singers who know how to sing opera in
English (which is harder than singing opera in Italian).  Or if it is in
Italian AND is one of the libretti which I have studied.  Opera requires
effort.

Struggling to return to color-blind casting...Larry offers his comments
above as support for the analogy between obese opera singers and actors
who are not necessarily the color one might expect in a particular
Shakespearean character (I did it!  I'm back on topic!).  I'm not sure
this analogy entirely works.  Even in opera recently, one sees fewer
hefty Mimis and Violettas than one did in years past.  Body type may be
the last frontier as far as challenging our preconceptions (the in-depth
discussions in the press of whether Simon Russell Beale is too fat to be
Hamlet spring to mind).

There are, however, real and material considerations here which may be
separate from prejudice.  Just as flight attendants have to be of a
minimum height (not out of prejudice against short people, but because
they have to be able to reach the overhead luggage compartments), some
roles (NOT all by any means) have physical elements which need to be
either met by the actor -- OR changed in performance. Cordelia's
carryability has already been noted in this discussion.  Lear could,
conceivably, pull a more substantial Cordelia in on a wheeled gurney.
Or, less ridiculously, one could do as Peter Brook did in his *Hamlet*:
for Ophelia's burial, Ophelia's corpse was represented by a length of
blood-red fabric (not, I might add, for physical reasons: the Ophelia in
question, Shantala Shivalingappa, was tiny). If the actor under
consideration for Cordelia was outstanding enough to merit this change,
it could be done.

At any rate, skin color isn't a perceptual or practical production issue
in the same way that body type is.  In fact, it's really not an issue at
all.  Or at least it shouldn't be.

Cheers,
Karen Peterson

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