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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Colorblindness
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1200  Thursday, 24 May 2001

[1]     From:   Richard Burt <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 May 2001 11:22:09 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness

[2]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 May 2001 12:18:12 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness

[3]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 May 2001 13:13:25 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness

[4]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 May 2001 07:55:17 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Burt <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 May 2001 11:22:09 -0400
Subject: 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness

Pat Dolan wrote:

>If you don't hear any hue and cry about the lack of opportunity for
>minority actors in the entertainment industry, it's because you aren't
>listening. See for example, today's Salon magazine online at
>http://www.salon.com/ent/tv/feature/2001/05/23/black_tv/index.html.

Entertainment magazine has run two major articles on this phenomenon the
past two years.

Is simplifications have been well criticized in some of the essays
devoted to Spike Lee's Bamboozled in the current issue of Cineaste.  If
anyone's interested, I have a critique in my own "To e- or not to e-?,"
forthcoming in Shakespeare After  Mass Media (edited by me, to be
published by Palgrave / St. Martin's) and on line at
http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~eng222sh/schedule.html

I discuss Shakespeare's presence in Bamboozled, Scary Movie, and Free
Enterprise.

(Just scroll down for the link.)

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 May 2001 12:18:12 -0400
Subject: 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness

I've been trying to resist responding.  However, if no one else says
it....

I favor colorblind casting because it jogs the audience into awareness
that what they are seeing is not "real life".  Shakespeare worked within
a highly metaphorical theatre practice.  A boy in a blond wig was fair
Helen, who launched a thousand ships.  He was providing scripts for an
acting company: the individual players, including himself in the roles
he took, would be visible beneath their characters for any regular
attendee. As characters, the actors tell us who and what and where they
are, assisted to a small degree by costume pieces and props.  We, the
audience, are to do the hard work of the imagination required to
understand from what is before our eyes and in our ears both the
ostensible story being told, and whatever literal historical incidents
we may know of to which it may refer, plus the parallels in our own
lives on which it is designed to shed light.  We are neither to take it
as sheer narrative diversion, something that happened in the past to
"others, elsewhere" nor vicariously, identifying in the present with one
character and simply experiencing what is happening to him or her, now.
Brecht struggled for techniques to get his audience actively comparing,
questioning, judging, thinking, as well as feeling-- but for Shakespeare
the conditions of performance and the expectations of the audience WERE
such techniques.  A play is "a structured system of analogies" (Langer)
and literalism is the enemy of theatrical significance.

As Pat Dolan <
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 > points out,

>the willingness of the audience to
>participate in the dramatic moment was key. In other (my) words, if you
>believe African Americans can't play Scots, their performances won't
>work for you, because you refuse your participation. .... my (Dolan's, with which I agree)
>point is that while your participation may depend on features of your
>cultural and ideological makeup which are neither conscious nor
>particularly malleable, it's about you

(and, I'd add, your conditioning through the performance practice
familiar to you)

>and not about the nature of the
>theatre or the plays.

Geralyn Horton
Newton, Mass. 02460
<http://www.stagepage.org>

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 May 2001 13:13:25 -0400
Subject: 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness

There are esthetic as well as ideological issues involved in the matter
of colorblind casting, at least if one starts from the premises
conventionally summarized at the beginning of introductory books on
stage and film: briefly, that theater is an essentially presentational
medium, which constructs and conveys its own reality as it goes, and
that film is an essentially representational medium, which transmits a
preexisting reality in a different time and space.  In this argument,
the force exerted by normative, ordinary experience--e.g. that Scots or
Florentines have pale skins--is much stronger on film than on stage, so
that colorblind casting is more natural in theater than in cinema.
There is also the sense that the customary audience for live theater in
the West, and especially what we call classical theater, is better
educated and more sophisticated that that for film, and hence likely to
be more tolerant of departure from customary expectations about things
like race.  The essentialist quality of this argument renders it
suspect, of course, but not therefore unworthy of consideration.

David Evett

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 May 2001 07:55:17 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1187 Re: Colorblindness

It is perfectly valid to claim that an actor should match his role, not
only in talent and temperament, but also in physical appearance; that
race is an important part of physical appearance and must therefore be
considered; and that such consideration is aesthetic, not "racist." This
is the position which prevails throughout the film industry, where
colorblind casting is virtually unknown.  As Mr. Weiss correctly notes,
it is also the position which prevails throughout theatre, save for that
segment devoted to classical production.  To inflate such a limited
practice into a moral norm and condemn all the rest is quite a stretch.
I daresay that most people would be shocked and displeased to see a
black actor playing General Cornwallis in The Patriot or President
Kennedy in Sixteen Days.  Such a reaction would no doubt be
race-conscious; but that does not make it reprehensible.

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