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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: July ::
Re: Colour-Blind Casting
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1501  Thursday, 24 July 2003

[1]     From:   Ted Dykstra <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jul 2003 08:00:49 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1484 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[2]     From:   Edward Pixley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jul 2003 09:05:27 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1484 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[3]     From:   Bruce Fenton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jul 2003 10:38:58 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1489 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[4]     From:   Jonathan C. Dietrich <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jul 2003 09:54:36 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1484 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[5]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jul 2003 13:09:05 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1489 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[6]     From:   Kathy Dent <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jul 2003 14:18:18 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1489 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[7]     From:   Jane Brody <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jul 2003 12:21:45 EDT
        Subj:   Color blind casting


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ted Dykstra <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jul 2003 08:00:49 EDT
Subject: 14.1484 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1484 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

Re "casting"

It seems to me that the only important qualification for an actor to
play any part is that they have the qualities the director is looking
for which will enhance his/her vision. The true supporters of the
concept of colour blind casting (I of course speak for all of them!) are
simply saying that someone can be dead right for a part because of what
they COMMAND on stage, and we should not be denied the opportunity to
see them in any number of roles simply because they are not the implied
race of the character they essay.

Who would want anyone but Peter Sellers to be playing that part of the
East Indian in THE PARTY? He had all that was required and more to play
that part.  Unfortunately we are not so forgiving when it comes to other
races portraying "white" characters. Too bad for us.

Where colour blind casting falls apart, and I have seen it MANY times,
is when the director wishes to cast against race simply to make a point.
It never adds to the play, and does the whole concept a huge disservice.
I have seen many marginal actors playing parts that were beyond them,
cast simply because they weren't white, not because their artistry
enhanced the production.

Ted Dykstra

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jul 2003 09:05:27 -0400
Subject: 14.1484 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1484 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

>I'm becoming very twitchy reading the number of posts that seem
>unawareof, or hostile to, theatre that extends beyond realism. Realism
>is no longer the default option for theatrical style, and hasn't been
>for some decades. The theatre is simply not required to placate the
>literal-minded.

Thank you, Anna Kamaralli, for bringing this discussion out of the
1950s.  That period of realism, which, from beginning to end, lasted
less than a century, is a very brief one in the history of theatre.  The
ancient Greeks, we all remember, used three actors to play all the
roles.  This past week I had the privilege of seeing a stunning
production of Euripides' ORESTES by the Franklin Stage Company which
made a bow to that tradition with some of its own double casting.  A
single woman (also a professional concert soprano) played the role of
the Chorus, with remarkable comic effect, while the casting of a single
actor to play Menelaus/Helen/Phrygian Slave and another to play
Tyndareus/Pylades/Messenger made for striking ironies one could not have
found with separate casting of the roles.  I realize that the above is
not the same as color-blind casting, but some of my most memorable
Shakespeare experiences have resulted from color-blindness.  James Earl
Jones' KING LEAR is certainly the most memorable I have ever seen, and
Denzel Washington's RICHARD III had some exquisite moments, but one of
the most memorable in that production was Mary Alice's Queen Margaret.
The shocking impact of her performance was not from her being Black, but
from her looking like such a sweet, motherly kind of woman.  When the
venom came from her lips, it made the hair stand on end.  Let's leave
realism (or representationalism) to film producers.  They do it so much
better.

Ed Pixley

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Fenton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jul 2003 10:38:58 EDT
Subject: 14.1489 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1489 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

>skin colour matters not - in anything - in
>any way - in any play. It's
>nonsense, of course. Skin colour is a
>physical attribute - like age,
>gender, height, and weight. A director casts

Just yesterday I received an essay yesterday that speaks to this very
issue.  I don't want to get off-topic by posting the whole page here:
essentially the author, Louis Walker, makes a case for a more color
blind society basing hiring on merit (presumably including acting jobs)
and elimination of the term "African American" (replaced with "black")
for precisely the reasons mentioned in the above post.  Anyone
interested, drop me an email and I will forward it to you.

Bruce Fenton

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan C. Dietrich <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jul 2003 09:54:36 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 14.1484 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1484 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

First a word about myself, as this is my first time posting. My name is

Jonathan C. Dietrich and I am a Drama graduate from University of
Waterloo, Ontario Canada. I have many roles under my belt
(http://hotsos.ca/jcd/acting.asp), and am considering directing a
community theatre Shakespearean production in the future.

At a community level, I think my casting is not going to be casting to
type or even casting realistically, but primarily casting to skill.
Nothing is worse in my eyes than seeing a pretty cast that can't carry
engage the audience with the text.

 >one wonders why directors and actors insist on forcing audiences to
 >suspend their disbelief more than is usual by idiosyncratic casting
 >choices.
 >
 >Larry Weiss

I think that unfortunately when most directors (at least a the community
theatre level) decide to cast "colour-blind" or "gender-blind" it is
primarily because they are trying to "make a point". I think a lot of
young directors are scared to take the text for what it is, and feel
some sort of safety in mucking with, or that because Shakespeare's works
have been produced so often that they are obligated to add something new
to it.  Not enough time is spent with the text and ensuring actors *know
what they are saying* and can effectively *convey it to the audience*,
instead time is spent being clever in working their theme into the work
(often poorly done at that!).

However, I believe that if the performances are excellent the audience
will gladly suspend their disbelief, as that is why they are there! They
can watch movies, television, documentaries or even people in the mall,
but they have paid to see theatre.

I think of it like photography and painting. If you want a realistic
interpretation, use a camera. If you want an interpretation, use a
painter. Few criticize Dali for "forcing audiences to suspend their
disbelief more than is usual".

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jul 2003 13:09:05 -0400
Subject: 14.1489 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1489 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

>Has anyone chosen to play Othello as an Arab lately? I know there's a
>strand in the 19th and early 20th century that a black Othello couldn't
>be as noble as Shakespeare made him (it is, they suggest, just not
>realistic), so he must have been a North African.

Anthony Hopkins played Othello as a Berber in the BBC/Time Life
production, produced and directed by Jonathan Miller.  It was the worst
performance I ever saw Hopkins give.  It could have been due to Miller's
directorial choices -- he was the guy who decided that Petruchio is
really a boring Puritan.  But Bob Hoskins was a superb Iago.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kathy Dent <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Jul 2003 14:18:18 +0100
Subject: 14.1489 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1489 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

Patrick Dolan writes|:

>By the way, Nancy Mairs, a fine, prickly writer who has MS, does a
>wonderful little beat in one of her essays about how she prefers the
>word "crippled." I have no idea if she's the only one who is attempting
>to reclaim and revalue the word, but I've seen it done in print. And
>very well, too.

Yes, some people with disabilities do use the word "cripple" - in a
similar way, I think, to the way that some black people use "nigger"-
but I, being white and able-bodied, would be careful to avoid both.

I haven't followed this thread too closely, but isn't there an issue
about equal job opportunities for everyone employed in the acting
profession?  I mean, none of us really think that the actor playing, for
example, Lear is related to the three playing his daughters, do we?  So
why should we be preoccupied with whether they have a family
resemblance?  And once we've freed ourselves from that level of
naturalistic expectation, surely we can't get bothered about whether one
or some of them are also black. They're just PRETENDING, aren't they?

Kathy Dent

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jane Brody <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Jul 2003 12:21:45 EDT
Subject:        Color blind casting

I believe in colorblind casting because the more we do it, the more it
will become a non-issue.  In plays where all of the women were
originally played by men, a bit of "blindness" would not seem to me to
be a problem.  There are directors who cast "to type" and those who cast
for "skill." I personally tend to cast for skill, but realize that some
of the preconceptions of the audience need to be addressed.  However, we
really need to keep examining how far we bow down to the audience's
prejudices.  I for one didn't have a problem with Simon Beale's casting,
but of course, I am a short chubby person.  The idea that heroes are
handsome and white, that leading are sexy and shapely with low voices
and that ingenues are slender and blond is really boring.  As a former
casting director for film and TV, I know how limiting this can be.  I
find that dissonance between the actor and the role can be intriguing
and illuminating.

Jane Brody

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