Lack of Diverse Actors Prompts Change in Plays

Drew Kaplan ’20, Opinion Editor

 

The Department of Theatre & Dance had to change two plays this semester, Clybourne Park and A Raisin in the Sun due to the lack of students of color who auditioned.

Both plays “hinge on racial tension and wouldn’t have made sense with an ethnically homogenous cast,” according to Peter Winnard ’18, a student actor. “Not enough students of color auditioned and we certainly weren’t about to do blackface, so they were cancelled.”

Professor of Theatre Todd Wronski explained that the plays were originally chosen to be performed “because of the new initiative of the college doing community engagement.” He explained that the department “redoubled our efforts to figure out how we could do things that would resonate with the community.”

A Raisin in the Sun, set in Chicago in 1959, is about “a [black] family … attempting to move out of this very crowded apartment into a house. The house is in a predominantly white area,” according to Wronski. However, their actions are hampered by redlining policies that were in effect at the time; although they do purchase a house, they face discrimination from their white neighbors. Wronski described the central conflict of the play as whether they will move into the neighborhood, or be dissuaded from moving in. Clybourne Park is the same story told from the perspective of the white family that sold the house to the black family from A Raisin in the Sun.

“The idea was to maybe present this up at Hope Station or the community center up on Franklin Street or something off campus, as well as on campus, to try and get the affected communities into dialogue,” said Wronski.

Wronski explained that the department maintains a policy of wanting to have “as many students, with no preconditions whatsoever, coming out to audition for our plays.” However, as the department cannot control exactly who auditions, the semester didn’t receive the turnout required to produce the shows. “The composition of the casting pool is always very unpredictable,” he added.

Wronski explained that the department had reached out to a number of other groups on campus attempting to increase the size of the audition pool.

“In mid-January Professor Wronski shared audition info with various faculty and staff to promote the opportunity to students,” Vincent Stephens, director of the Popel Shaw Center (PSC) for Race & Ethnicity, said in an email. “The PSC agreed to do so by promoting auditions through its weekly electronic newsletter.”

Wronski also explained that he reached out to Vice President of Student Life Joyce Bylander in relation to the plays. Bylander did not respond to a request for comment before print time.

“We wanted to leave no stone unturned,” said Wronski. “We tried to spread the word as widely as we possibly could…We thought this would be a good opportunity to pursue another goal of the department’s, which has always been to make as open a door to the campus community as possible, with all our dramatic productions.”

Wronski explained that the department will instead perform Buried Child by Sam Shephard this semester. The play was picked in part by student consensus and in part because it meant portions of the sets for the previous productions could be used. Buried Child opens on Friday, March 2.

Noah Fusco, ’18, who is also involved with the theatre department, said, “it’s a shame that we were unable to put on Clybourne and Raisin, two plays that would have inspired valuable and vital conversation regarding racial conflicts and class in America. The theatre should not be a place of entertainment but rather a forum in which to enact our most uncomfortable social dilemmas.”