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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Color-Blind Casting
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1144  Wednesday, 16 May 2001

[1]     From:   Cary M. Mazer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 13:33:47 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1099 Re: Color-Blind Casting

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 22:33:04 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1131 Re: Color-Blind Casting


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cary M. Mazer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 13:33:47 -0400
Subject: 12.1099 Re: Color-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1099 Re: Color-Blind Casting

Jack Heller asked:

>It seems that I heard that Andre Braugher once played Macbeth. If so,
>would anyone who has seen this care to comment? I can't think of anyone
>I'd rather see trying that role.

I did see that production--the Philadelphia Drama Guild, directed by
then Artistic-Director Mary B. Robinson, in 1991--and I wrote, in my
review for the Philadelphia City Paper:

>     That the Macbeths are capable of committing such horrible acts in
> such a moral world does not mean that they are immoral monsters, but only
> that they each have the imagination to envision such acts, and the
> persuasive powers to overcome their own and each other's moral qualms. [...]
>      Andre Braugher's Macbeth seems constantly surprised by
> himself:  surprised at his ambitions and desires and capacity for murder,
> and increasingly surprised that he doesn't find it all more
> surprising.  Braugher's youth, and his confident, mature physical and
> vocal powers, merge perfectly with his conception of Macbeth as the
> rising star, the perfect soldier and subject, who can't quite understand
> why his success hasn't made him happier.
>      Braugher's performance grows as the play progresses.  Due to some
> unusual and fascinating directorial choices (for example, in the familiar
> "Tomorrow and tomorrow" speech), Macbeth's final journey through arrogant
> confidence and near-suicidal surrender culminates in the character
> transformed into a magnificent and deadly warrior, the disturbingly
> attractive killer who was so admired by Duncan in the first scenes.

I remember that, before "Why should I play the Roman fool," Macbeth
entered, weary, and began elaborate preparations to kill himself, before
thinking better of it.

As to the issues of "color-blind casting," let me preface my memory of
this production by saying that I am a very vocal advocate of color-blind
casting; I believe that there is virtually no role or situation or
relationship that cannot be cast "non-traditionally"; and I believe that
there are very strong and clear signals that can be sent to an audience
to indicate that the race (or age, or gender, or disability) of the
actor is to be disregarded as a meaningful category (just as the
production can equally clearly signal that race, etc., *are*
meaningful).  This production was in every way signaling to us that it
was "color-blind."  That said, there *are*, occasionally, unintended
meanings that can creep into the audience's perception of the actors and
their roles.  (I'm told, for example, that when Christopher Walken
played the title role in Shaw's The Philanderer at Yale Rep shortly
after the drowning of Natalie Wood, with whom his name had been
romantically linked, the valences of the play were seriously thrown
off).  Well, Lady Macbeth was played by Jordan Baker--very tall, blond,
WASPy, and icy, the perfect hostess and power-spouse.  The banquet
(which was set, on stage, by butlers with white gloves during the scene
in which Fleance was murdered) was the perfect dinner party, with white
tablecloth and spotless silver and china service.  Well, the production
happened only a few months after the Clarence Thomas confirmation
hearings, and the image that came into mind (well, into *my* mind, at
least) was the image from the particular camera angle of the televised
hearings, with Thomas in the foreground and former Senator Danforth and
Thomas's wife sitting in the row behind him:  a small person of color
who had worked very hard, with just the right patronage, energetically
seizing just the right opportunities, with his "Perfect Hostess" White
wife sitting, encouragingly, behind him.   This was, I'm sure, the last
thing the director had in mind when she cast the production, and the
last thing she had in mind (I know, from speaking to her afterwards) in
telling the story she was trying tell.  But, for me at least, it
signified nevertheless.

Cary

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 22:33:04 -0400
Subject: 12.1131 Re: Color-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1131 Re: Color-Blind Casting

The three SHAKSPERians who responded to my last post all seem to feel
that I took too absolute a position.  I agree.  But they have all
forgotten that I was responding to a post which attempted even more
dogmatically to justify color-blind dramatic casting by pointing out
that obese singers are sometimes cast in romantic opera roles without
anyone sitting up and taking notice.  I was merely pointing out some
fundamental differences between opera and drama and why, therefore, the
analogy does not advance the argument.

If you want to discuss color-blind casting on its own merits I will be
happy to do so.  I suspect that the issue is not so much over whether
the race of the actor is irrelevant to his ability to carry the role,
but whether it should be disregarded even though it is relevant.  That
social and political question makes a great many people uncomfortable;
so, rather than address it head on, they protest, in effect, that they
do not notice the actor's color.  Frankly, I find such sanctimonious
protestations highly doubtful.

I summed up my own view of the matter three years ago in SHK 9.0194:

"For most of us the characters are old or young, male or female, black
or white, etc.  And, since the actor's job is to      persuade us that
he is the thing he portrays, isn't it part of his function to seem to be
old, female or white, if that is what his character is?  I do not argue
that a young actor cannot play an old part (the history of the theater
is full of examples of this), but to do so he needs to act old,
otherwise he is reciting, not acting.  ... [M]en can play women, and
vice versa, but by pretending to be women.  If Olivier could play
Othello in black makeup, why can't Laurence Fishburne play Iago in white
makeup?  Is one more demeaning than the other, and isn't it racist to
suggest that it is?  The heart of my thesis is that no actor is
disqualified from playing a part he or she can mimic convincingly, but
that every actor is foreclosed from playing a part he is unable to carry
persuasively, regardless of the nature of the inability."

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