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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Colorblindness
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1259  Wednesday, 30 May 2001

[1]     From:   Susan St. John <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 May 2001 09:13:36 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness

[2]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 May 2001 13:09:06 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness

[3]     From:   Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 May 2001 10:55:10 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness

[4]     From:   Pat Dolan <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 May 2001 12:58:04 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness

[5]     From:   Cary M. Mazer <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 May 2001 14:07:54 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness

[6]     From:   Adrian Kiernander <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 May 2001 13:31:43 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1228 Re: Colorblindness

[7]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 May 2001 17:16:56 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1228 Re: Colorblindness


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan St. John <
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Date:           Monday, 28 May 2001 09:13:36 -0700
Subject: 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness

>Charles Weinstein  Re: Colorblindness--A Hypothetical
>
>A Shakespearean stage director wants to do a production that maintains
>strict fidelity to the images and iconography of the historical period
>represented.  Say, for example, that he wants to do Richard II and
>closely model its production design on late-Medieval painting and
>sculpture.  He decides that he cannot cast minority actors and still
>remain true to his vision.  Is he a racist?

I think he is only racist if he repeatedly chooses this type of play and
style of performance for the express purpose of avoiding the use of any
actors of color, or minorities, or fill-in-the-blank with whatever PC
term suits your sensibilities.  One cannot be called a racist (well, not
in any honest fashion, anyway) for stating the truth, and the truth of
the English court at the time of Richard II was pretty much whey-faced.

If I choose to direct August Wilson's Fences and choose to remain true
to the playwright's intentions, and only hire black actors, am I racist
against whites (or Asians, or Pacific Islanders?)?  Do you need to know
my race to make a determination?  Would that make any difference?  If
the situation were to cast only males in order to be true to
Shakespeare's time would that be sexist?  Would it matter if the
director were a "she"?

I think not.  A director's concept is just that...and every director has
images in mind of who would fit certain roles, possibly even dismissing
some good actors because they don't fit the preconceived image...that
doesn't make them prejudiced, just myopic :-)

Susan.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Monday, 28 May 2001 13:09:06 -0400
Subject: 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness

Not necessarily.  He (or she) is an aesthete who awards primacy to the
visual aspects of staging.  If this hypothetical director casts weak
actors on the basis of their appearance, the production will fail -- a
coffee table book of illustrations cannot hold an audience.  If this
director always has a "concept" that excludes actors who appear to be
other than Anglo-Saxon, then one can reasonably hypothesize that he or
she is either a racist or an idiot.

Speaking of visually-oriented productions of Richard II, what do you
think of Woodruff's current one at the Americsn Repertory Theatre,
Charles? I'm still wrestling with my own review for Aislesay, but
curious parties can find plenty of outraged critics and a few defenders
on <http://www.theatermirror.com>

> A Shakespearean stage director  wants to do Richard II and
> closely model its production design on late-Medieval painting and
> sculpture.  He decides that he cannot cast minority actors   Is he a racist?

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

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Monday, 28 May 2001 10:55:10 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness

I'll probably regret this later, but ok, I'll bite:

>A Shakespearean stage director wants to do a
>production that maintains strict fidelity to the
>images and iconography of the historical period
>represented.  Say, for example, that he wants to do
>Richard II and closely model its production design
>on late-Medieval painting and sculpture.  He decides
>that he cannot cast minority actors and still
>remain true to his vision.  Is he a racist?

Yes.  Here's why.

If you look carefully at medieval imagery in various media (tapestries,
illuminations, painting...I will leave out sculpture for the moment
since in most cases we do not have available to us information regarding
what color, or colors, if any, may have been employed in any particular
sculpture we wish to consider in this exercise) you will note that the
representations of human beings therein do not bear close resemblance in
either form or skin-tone to ANY 20th-21st century human being.  They are
stylized, emblematic, and visually symbolic rather than mimetic.

Therefore, our hypothetical director, if s/he wishes to maintain "strict
fidelity to the images and iconography" of the period, would have,
perforce, limited options.  Two, in fact.  S/he could have all the
actors masqued, with said masques designed and constructed to invoke an
appropriate "Ah, we're being shown medieval iconography" response in the
audience.  Or, all actors could, conceivably, be made up so as to mimic
the colors of the aforesaid paintings, illuminations, et. al.  The
palate for such makeup would be limited to the colors available in the
historical period, which were not long on subtle shadings of skin tone,
as I recall.

Either of these two staging options make the skin color of any actor
under consideration for a part totally irrelevant.  Thus, if our
hypothetical and literally-minded stage director insists that "strict
fidelity" requires absolutely the casting of Caucasian actors, then yes
indeed, s/he is being racist.

In my considered opinion.

Hypothetically yours,
Karen Peterson

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Dolan <
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Date:           Monday, 28 May 2001 12:58:04 -0500
Subject: 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness

>A Shakespearean stage director wants to do a production that maintains
>strict fidelity to the images and iconography of the historical period
>represented.  Say, for example, that he wants to do Richard II and
>closely model its production design on late-Medieval painting and
>sculpture.  He decides that he cannot cast minority actors and still
>remain true to his vision.  Is he a racist?

Okay, I lied when I said I'd bow out.

No, I am not prepared to call him a "racist" based on this evidence.
That totalizes him in ways that I am not prepared to do.

But, unless he hires only Anglo-Norman aristocrats who speak the
dialects of English, Latin and French that the relevant "late medieval"
characters than "race" (whatever socially constructed concept of race
he's using) is more important to him in casting than class or language.

If he wants "strict fidelity" to the images and iconography of the
period and hires women and people who aren't Roman Catholic, then "race"
is more important to him than gender or religion.

If he wants strict fidelity to late medieval characters and hires actors
whose teeth have been fixed by modern orthodontics and whose stature is
greater than the norms of a culture that didn't eat the same foods in
the same abundance then "race" is more important to him than stature and
appearance.

If he hires "non-minority" actors who possess lesser skills and
abilities than minority actors who are available, then "race" is more
important to him than the quality of the acting.

While I am not willing to say "This director is a racist," I am
perfectly willing to say that a culturally constructed and maintained
system of differences that says that "race" is a more relevant category
than class, language, religion, gender, stature, appearance or skill is
a racist one.  There's a big difference between calling people names,
which I don't want to do and honestly and truthfully identifying
features of the systems of difference in which we operate. I can call
someone's "vision" racist without calling him racist. I have racist and
sexist responses in some circumstances and get hurt and defensive if
someone calls me a racist or sexist, not because I necessarily deny the
responses, but because "racist" and "sexist" terms of abuse in my world.

And in any case, why is trying to invent a late medieval version of
Richard III a good thing, rather than somehow reproducing Shakespeare's
late 16th century rendition of Thomas More's Tudor version of him? And
why not do what I think Elizabethan/Jacobean theater did, i.e. adapt
stories and plays to their circumstances?

Cheers,
Pat

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cary M. Mazer <
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Date:           Monday, 28 May 2001 14:07:54 -0400
Subject: 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1252 Re: Colorblindness

>Robin Hamilton writes:

>Lo these many years ago at Loughborough, we cast a black actor as
>Macbeth.  Not through colourblindness but simply because he was the best
>actor in that year-group.

That *is* what is meant by colorblindness.  Right on.

Cary

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Adrian Kiernander <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 May 2001 13:31:43 +1000
Subject: 12.1228 Re: Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1228 Re: Colorblindness

Pat Dolan wrote:

>Surely the consideration in the film industry is primarily economic, not
>aesthetic? Why on earth else cast an Australian movie star as a Scot?
>(Or, for that matter, as a Danish prince.)

Perhaps because he's a competent actor, a graduate of the [Australian]
National Institute of Dramatic Art, and thoroughly trained in
Shakespeare, who, for example, helped make a name for himself by
performing as Romeo in a very well received production in Australia as
far back as 1979. I've noticed a tendency to knock Mel Gibson on this
list previously, apparently on the basis that as an Australian he's not
an appropriate actor in Shakespeare. Could this be another manifestation
of prejudice? Do we need a sub-thread on nationality-blindness?

Adrian Kiernander

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 May 2001 17:16:56 -0400
Subject: 12.1228 Re: Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1228 Re: Colorblindness

My own opinion is that nontraditional casting works much better for a
purely fictional character than a historic one--I know Andre Braugher is
a terrific actor, but when I learned that he played Henry V I couldn't
help wondering if when he was born, everyone at court stood around
awkwardly wondering if they should say anything if nobody else noticed
anything. (Everyone certainly noticed in Titus Andronicus.)

Dana Shilling

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