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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: August ::
Re: Colour-Blind Casting
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1577  Friday, 8 August 2003

[1]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Aug 2003 13:02:00 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1570 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[2]     From:   Al Magary <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Aug 2003 12:50:36 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1570 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[3]     From:   Sophie Masson <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Aug 2003 09:12:06 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[4]     From:   Bruce Fenton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Aug 2003 20:26:31 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[5]     From:   Arthur Lindley <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Aug 2003 09:59:54 +0800 (SGT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1570 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[6]     From:   Thomas M. Lahey <
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        Date:   Thursday, 7 Aug 2003 19:19:01 -0700
        Subj:   Re: Colour-Blind Casting


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Aug 2003 13:02:00 +0100
Subject: 14.1570 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1570 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

What strikes me as confusing about this issue is that in the same cast,
you have e.g. a black woman playing an archetypal, almost cultural
stereo-type 'mama' figure - jolly, aggressive, taking on the men,
maternally caring, wonderfully rude and very funny, putting out as hard
she can go etc - next to a black actress playing absolutely straight a
traditionally 'white role'.

The current NT 'H5' for example has a very good black Madame, playing,
along with all the stereotypes associated, up to Pistol / Nym / Bardolph
etc, BUT the same black actress doubling as Queen Isabella - dignified,
authoritative etc. No hint of a stereotype in sight.

Is it not asking a lot of the audience to re-adjust, or re-think
directorial messages in this situation? I mean, can you have it both
ways? It's surely a bit tendentious to proclaim the justifiable virtues
of 'colour-blind' casting, if you then unashamedly play up to the
'colour' stereotypes in exactly the same production. Isn't that rather
cake and eating it? Is it even artistically dishonest?

On a very simple level, I just find it difficult to see a white man and
wife and their black son on stage. Yes, I know all the issues, but it
takes an effort. And as someone said before, you couldn't  cast a black
Desdemona against Othello, surely? No more white Cleopatras?

Now, if I am listening on the RADIO, then no problem at all, because I
am HEARING the language, and not SEEING the play. . So what are the
issues there?

Incidentally, on another tack, hold your breath for the new all-FEMALE
'Shrew' at the Globe??? Pick the bones out of THAT!!

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Aug 2003 12:50:36 -0700
Subject: 14.1570 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1570 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

Color-blindness is relative.  A muted off-color strreak may be entirely
overlooked in some garish display of neon.  An instance of this was San
Francisco's ACT production of Richard III in 1974-75, with
Korean-American Randall Duk Kim in the lead.   As the entire production
had an early heavy-metal look, with metallic this and studded that, all
in shades of black, the audience seemed to overlook the ethnicity of a
hunchback samurai...

As it might never be possible in a blind-to-everything casting of, say,
Denzel Washington as Juliet.

At one time I wouldn't have put anything past ACT, but William Ball is
long gone and the company is far less ostentatiously bizarre.

I guess I'm on the conservative side of this argument and would
certainly protest any color-blind casting to make a current political
point.

Al Magary

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sophie Masson <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Aug 2003 09:12:06 +1000
Subject: 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

Re black actors playing Shakespearean roles, I'd love to see Samuel
Jackson in a big role. He's an underrated actor of very great emotional
power, with an ability to play anything from the sinister to the almost
unbearably moving, sometimes in the one role. Come to think of it,
Richard III would be a fabulous part for him!

Sophie Masson

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Fenton <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Aug 2003 20:26:31 EDT
Subject: 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

Brian Willis - you are absolutely correct about Denzel, he is excellent

A friend of mine who is an aspiring screenwriter has proudly informed me
that Mr. Washington is welcome to play ANY of the roles in his
screenplays   -  as silly as that may sound for my friend who has yet to
have even a short film produced-  it is exactly the attitude that all of
Hollywood should have, but amazingly does not -  as far as I'm
concerned, quality of actor - be it Denzel, Morgan Freeman or Anthony
Hopkins someone else is FAR more important than skin color in the grand
scheme of things and the likelihood of the movie (or play) being
enjoyable - its not even in the same league   -  quality actors, along
with script and direction are crucial.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Arthur Lindley <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Aug 2003 09:59:54 +0800 (SGT)
Subject: 14.1570 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1570 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

>Audience is everything. New York and West End theatres can afford
>non-traditional casting because of the diversity of their potential
>audiences.  My Shakespeare group performs plays for middle- and
>high-school audiences.  I could cast an Asian Macbeth, or a black
>Benedick, or a female Hamlet, but there are other kinds of limitations.
>A year and a half ago, we shelved plans to perform "Romeo and Juliet"
>because the local Chief of Police pointed out to me that the play is
>cited in a statistically significant number of teen suicide letters.  I
>don't know whether he was right or wrong, since I never followed up, but
>for a local group like mine, keeping the Chief of Police happy with us
>is far more important than performing the play we wanted to.

Mark, your Chief may well be right.  I remember a story which appeared
in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and, no doubt, a
number of other places a couple of years ago about the group in Verona
who have taken it upon themselves to answer the thousands of letters
which arrive every year addressed to Juliet.  Most of them, needless to
say, are seeking advice to the love-lorn.

Arthur Lindley

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas M. Lahey <
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Date:           Thursday, 7 Aug 2003 19:19:01 -0700
Subject:        Re: Colour-Blind Casting

1)  20 years or so ago, I saw Whoopi Goldberg in 3 sketches (HBO); in
one of the skits Whoopi portrayed a Valley Girl.  Now, appearance wise,
Whoopi isn't your typical V.G.  But after only a few remarks, she was!

2)  I'm EASILY distracted; so much so that when principals are "miscast"
it takes me longer to get into the drama so there is resentment on my
part which I also have to work my way through before I can get to
appreciate (hopefully) what I came for.

3)  A similar feeling arises when I listen to today's talking heads beat
up the English/American language:  You know/I know/No, I mean/ ....
Everyone of these little phrases detracts (if I know, why are you
bothering to tell me?) from what the speaker is trying to communicate.

4)  Periodically, there is a flare up in the entertainment industry
about casting, e.g., is it ok for a nonJew, possibly an Arab (Omar
Sharif?) to play Moses - depends upon whom you ask.  My recollection is
that these spats die (except one?) with little being resolved - probably
because there isn't anything to resolve.

5)  I've appreciated being aware of the maturation process (my belief)
society is going through.  We are working at becoming blind to
religious/race/sex/age/sexual-orientation when we interact with people.
If we get to know the person without these binders & decide that there
is a mutual decision to take the relationship to the next level, then
these other elements, closer to the core of the onion, become more
important.

Drama (dramatic?) conclusion:  Talent will out if the director first,
cast members second, and finally the audience can give it the time but I
don't really see what it proves/teaches/accomplishes that is important.
That said, I would have liked to have seen the Othello where the races
were reversed.  That might have inspired some thought.

Stay healthy,
Tom

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