Race and the New Generation of Musical Theatre Writers

tumblr_n4stjge0TP1tpn084o7_1280I woke up recently to a video on Facebook advertising the cast and creative team of a new musical premiering this month at Arena Stage in Washingon, DC.

The musical is called Dear Evan Hansen and is written by the songwriting team Pasek & Paul, along with bookwriter Steven Levenson, and is directed by Michael Greif.

Let me say at the outset – this post is not about these people specifically. I have no personal beef with them. I respect the cast and team immensely and I’m sure the show is fantastic.

I am instead writing about my generation of musical theatre creators at large.

So here’s the video:

My first impression, even before PLAYING the video, was “Wow – look at all those white people.”

Here’s the thing. The buzz around the musical, in interviews and press, is about how contemporary the show is. The writers share, “We definitely wanted to tell a contemporary story and write a contemporary score for an actual musical.” They continue saying, “one of the things that’s so strong about the book of the show is that it’s incredibly contemporary and fresh.” Director Greif – known for RENT and Next To Normal – admits, “‘I had tremendous regard for their abilities,’ adding that the young creative team met his criteria for work ‘that pushes the form to new, deeper places.'”

And yet, I have to ask: How can any musical theatre creator of this generation write a new musical that takes place in today and now and have a cast of all white people? What version of the world are they living in?

Roundabout Theatre Company recently received a lot of backlash on Facebook when they released a photo of their entirely white cast for an upcoming Broadway revival of Noises Off.

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I think a lot of attention gets paid to the ethnic diversity of revivals in particular because we’ve already seen them in the “conventional” form, and so we think, “well, now’s the time to see something different.” Especially with something like Noises Off, a hugely commercial romp making its third appearance on Broadway and with countless productions in regional theater and schools.

But what about new shows? That’s where the opportunity exists to shift the paradigm!

Let’s get something straight – I’m not only picking on Pasek & Paul and their collaborators. I’m calling out everyone in my generation.

To find a sampling of other works, I headed over to New Musical Theatre.com, a site “dedicated to the distribution and promotion of a new generation of musical theater writers.”  Before even exploring the catalog of work, I was immediately struck by their homepage, filled with mostly white faces. I counted 4 (possibly 5) writers of color, which accounts for about 9% of all the artists the site represents.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.36.09 AM Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.36.20 AM Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.36.27 AM

But going further, I took a look at a collection of songs for sale that were featured in the site’s “launch concert”, assuming it would be an appropriate barometer of musical theatre up-and-comers.  I then looked at the shows those songs were pulled from and investigated their world premieres.  I figured that would be a fair sampling of this new generation of musical theater writers.

The list of shows includes: Ordinary Days by Adam Gwon, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown by Kerrigan & Lowdermilk, Henry & Mudge by Kerrigan & Lowdermilk, The Black Suits by Joe Iconis, 35MM by Ryan Scott Oliver, Glory Days by Nick Blaemire, and Edges by Pasek & Paul.  Every single one of these shows takes place in present day United States.  With the exception of Henry and Mudge, which is an adaptation, all of them are original works of fiction. And yet among 36 characters, we find 2 roles that were cast with actors of color.  Two.  Furthermore, it should be noted that none of the characters are specifically non-white.

Bottom line: The millennial generation of musical theater continues to write shows for and about white people, even though 42.8% of American millennials (18-34 year olds) are non-white.

How does this happen???

There seems to be a disconnect between millennials and race and obviously it goes beyond musical theater. I think part of the issue comes from the “write what you know” mentality of writers who are largely white, upper-middle class, and male.  I also think that today and historically, Broadway has had a dismal track record when it comes to diversity.

Consider this graph from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition’s 2006-2007 report on Ethnic Representation on New York City Stages:

casting_BroadwayI’d bet a lot of money that New York stages still look this way almost a decade later.  What’s disheartening, is that given the up-and-coming work of the new generation of musical theatre writers, it’s likely to look this way for a long time to come… unless all of us start to make a change.

There are writers in this generation who are taking us in a different direction.  People like Lin-Manuel Miranda and Michael R. Jackson, who also happen to be writers of color. Here’s a recent breakdown for Miranda’s Broadway show Hamilton about the all-white founding fathers of the United States:

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 10.15.10 AM

Even in a show about a whole bunch of upper-class white guys, Miranda flips history on its head and demands that the story reflect today’s America. If he can do it with a piece of historical non-fiction, why don’t other writers do it when they’re creating something original from scratch?

Look – I’m no different from Pasek & Paul. I’m a white, upper-middle class man. But that’s my point – we’re the ones who need to make the change. I believe that as artists we have a responsibility to showcase the world around us as it truly is…or else risk irrelevance.

So let this be a call to action for all musical theatre creators out there. Open your eyes to more than just your immediate network. Look at what’s happening in the world around you. As you tell your stories, consider your own bias and work to find the deeper truth.

Your audience will thank you in droves.

Agree? Disagree? Tell me in the comments. How do you think musical theatre (or theatre in general) can change the game when it comes to race?

Published by

btryback@gmail.com

Actor / Writer / Idealist I believe a good story has the power to change the way people feel, think, and act. I'm a storyteller with a passion for changing the world and leaving it better than I found it.

138 thoughts on “Race and the New Generation of Musical Theatre Writers”

  1. Is it possible to be both shocked and unsurprised? Because that’s how I feel reading these statistics and looking at the whiteness before me. It’s not even about “colorblind” casting anymore — it needs to be about specifically making efforts to diversify the landscape. I think it’s a combination of telling new/different/diverse stories, but also of letting different types of voices into the “traditional” stories. Colorblind casting, explicit minority casting, AND explicitly telling different stories. It’s shocking to me that that Noises Off cast is all white…but not really surprising. Maybe the word I’m looking for is “disappointment”.

    1. Disappointment is definitely an immediate response for me, too. I agree – it’s not *just* about casting anymore. It’s about the stories themselves, as well as the people telling those stories. It’s a complex issue that requires complex addressing.

      1. A complex issue indeed. The oft-ignored statistic, however, is that according to the Broadway League, in the 2013-14 season 80% of all tickets were purchased by Caucasians. Rather than criticize casting and the actors cast in these productions, shouldn’t we also look at outreach programs aiming to diversify our audiences, and look at college and apprenticeship programs to help increase the number of POC writers and creatives? Maybe it’s a chicken/egg argument, but it’s hard to ignore that even though “42.8% of American millennials (18-34 year olds) are non-white,” American theatre audiences look exactly like what is currently being represented on stage.

      2. @Shawn

        The average cost of a Broadway ticket is just slightly north of $100. Of course the audiences in NY are predominantly white. I don’t think that’s a metric that plays out across the spectrum, however.

  2. Is it possible to be both shocked and unsurprised? Because that’s how I feel reading these statistics and looking at the whiteness before me. It’s not even about “colorblind” casting anymore — it needs to be about specifically making efforts to diversify the landscape. I think it’s a combination of telling new/different/diverse stories, but also of letting different types of voices into the “traditional” stories. Colorblind casting, explicit minority casting, AND explicitly telling different stories. It’s shocking to me that that Noises Off cast is all white…but not really surprising. Maybe the word I’m looking for is “disappointment”.

    1. Disappointment is definitely an immediate response for me, too. I agree – it’s not *just* about casting anymore. It’s about the stories themselves, as well as the people telling those stories. It’s a complex issue that requires complex addressing.

      1. A complex issue indeed. The oft-ignored statistic, however, is that according to the Broadway League, in the 2013-14 season 80% of all tickets were purchased by Caucasians. Rather than criticize casting and the actors cast in these productions, shouldn’t we also look at outreach programs aiming to diversify our audiences, and look at college and apprenticeship programs to help increase the number of POC writers and creatives? Maybe it’s a chicken/egg argument, but it’s hard to ignore that even though “42.8% of American millennials (18-34 year olds) are non-white,” American theatre audiences look exactly like what is currently being represented on stage.

      2. @Shawn

        The average cost of a Broadway ticket is just slightly north of $100. Of course the audiences in NY are predominantly white. I don’t think that’s a metric that plays out across the spectrum, however.

  3. Great post. There are those of us working to shift the status quo. My current show is a straight play where the playwright stated in the breakdown that “casting should reflect the diversity found in NYC.” As a result, the three-hander features two actors of color. NYMF’s “Manuel vs. The Statue of Liberty” won a social impact award for using musical theater to shed light on the immigration crisis. Our 8 person cast had 6 actors of color and a trans actor in a lead role. Change is happening, but it’s a slow process.

    I think another part of this larger issue is the idea of quotas. The ‘token’ minority in a cast. Typically in an ensemble role, never as a supporting or lead. Why is there an ‘ethnic track’ instead of a ‘best performer’ track? Because ensembles can’t possibly have 5 or 6 or more actors of color. Still, there are glimmers of hope. Misty Copeland going into “On the Town.” Taye Diggs in “Hedwig.” Brandy in “Chicago.” But what about the non-celebrities? Rank and file actors trying to catch a break? It seems like if you don’t already have a large following or degree of fame, there’s a glass ceiling in casting when it comes to the meaty roles. Bringing visibility to the issue is a good first step. But let’s hold each other accountable on the follow through!

      1. ON THE TOWN was cast thoughtfully in 1944, too: “The original production of “On the Town” was notable for its mixed-race cast and intentional avoidance of racial stereotypes. The Japanese American dancer Sono Osato starred as Ivy; there were six African-Americans in the cast, who were treated as part of the citizenry; and nine months into the run, the African American conductor Everett Lee took over the podium.” (Wikipedia)

  4. Great post. There are those of us working to shift the status quo. My current show is a straight play where the playwright stated in the breakdown that “casting should reflect the diversity found in NYC.” As a result, the three-hander features two actors of color. NYMF’s “Manuel vs. The Statue of Liberty” won a social impact award for using musical theater to shed light on the immigration crisis. Our 8 person cast had 6 actors of color and a trans actor in a lead role. Change is happening, but it’s a slow process.

    I think another part of this larger issue is the idea of quotas. The ‘token’ minority in a cast. Typically in an ensemble role, never as a supporting or lead. Why is there an ‘ethnic track’ instead of a ‘best performer’ track? Because ensembles can’t possibly have 5 or 6 or more actors of color. Still, there are glimmers of hope. Misty Copeland going into “On the Town.” Taye Diggs in “Hedwig.” Brandy in “Chicago.” But what about the non-celebrities? Rank and file actors trying to catch a break? It seems like if you don’t already have a large following or degree of fame, there’s a glass ceiling in casting when it comes to the meaty roles. Bringing visibility to the issue is a good first step. But let’s hold each other accountable on the follow through!

      1. ON THE TOWN was cast thoughtfully in 1944, too: “The original production of “On the Town” was notable for its mixed-race cast and intentional avoidance of racial stereotypes. The Japanese American dancer Sono Osato starred as Ivy; there were six African-Americans in the cast, who were treated as part of the citizenry; and nine months into the run, the African American conductor Everett Lee took over the podium.” (Wikipedia)

  5. I agree as there aren’t many chances for actors of color to get to play complex roles. Even in traditionally white plays, they are not given the chance to even audition. It honestly starts with mentorship early one from other actors/directors/creatives of color, and white allies who want to curate more diversity. It means we can’t be safe,and take risks in casting.

  6. I agree as there aren’t many chances for actors of color to get to play complex roles. Even in traditionally white plays, they are not given the chance to even audition. It honestly starts with mentorship early one from other actors/directors/creatives of color, and white allies who want to curate more diversity. It means we can’t be safe,and take risks in casting.

  7. I’ve never heard of you. I am glad. Something tells me I won’t hear much more of you again. Have you SEEN the new Pasek & Paul show? If LMM wants to play fast and loose with history, that is his prerogative- he is bringing his vision to life. Imagine if someone did a musical based on ROOTS and all the African American roles were listed as “Asian” or “Hispanic”. Authors have the right to write the show they want. You think there isn’t enough diversity ? Writing a cunty attack on a new show doesn’t help- since you are such a wunderkind, go write your own non-white show. You are NOT part of the solution- you are part of the problem. I bet you picketed THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS as well. And p.s.- I’m black and I find you offensive, trite and an agitator.

    1. Hey nice try “Stefanee Okoro”! You are clearly a white aggitated person trying to conceal your ignorance. Let me tell you something, no POC would ever deny anything that Brett is saying in this article. I’m so sorry that you and many others feel that trying to build diversity in AMERICAN theatre means that you feel we are trying to diminish the importance of white people. Check your self. Brett: thank you for this. As a fellow ally, I am sick of having to hear my good minority actor friends having to deal with this in the industry. I find seeing diversity in entertainment beneficial and actually more entertaining. Cheers.

      1. I have zero stake in this, but I want to point out that “no POC would ever deny anything that Brett is saying in this article” is an example of both the “No True Scotsman” fallacy and the hasty generalization fallacy.

      2. I have zero stake in this argument, but I just wanted to point out that “no POC would ever deny anything that Brett is saying in this article” is an example of both the “No True Scotsman” fallacy and a huge, sweeping generalization. People of color are not identical.

    2. Ohh my dear Stefanee lol. You’ve seemed to have missed the entire point of the piece and you support your views with incongruous analogies. Did you read this thoroughly? This is an article about casting more than the writing. He’s not finding fault with what people have to say. As a matter of fact he makes a point to say that most of this material is written in a contemporary setting (today) for a contemporary audience so many characters could be CAST non white. In most cases, that wouldn’t require rewriting anything. So seeing this as an attack on a show (which he says on MORE than one occasion it’s not) is short sighted. In addition, the entire tone of your response is nasty, mean spirited and filled with negative energy…all while making assumptions you can’t back up. *smh* You disagree? Fine. You’re allowed. But don’t respond to a “cunty” article (and if you read it in the spirit in which it was meant, you’d see it’s not at all “cunty”) with a “cunty” response. It doesn’t make your point more valid and it won’t make anyone listen to your points.
      PS – I, too, am black and find YOU offensive, trite and woefully ignorant.

      1. What Rob said. And thanks to him for saying it with a sense of humor because I wasn’t going to. Brett did his homework and wrote a thoughtful article. Disagreement is always allowed, of course. Being a nasty cunnnn-try girl is not. I also know him personally and he has a huge heart and is a good guy and would never respond to anything he disagreed with in such a repellent manner. Smart (yet cowardly) of you to use a pseudonym.

  8. I’ve never heard of you. I am glad. Something tells me I won’t hear much more of you again. Have you SEEN the new Pasek & Paul show? If LMM wants to play fast and loose with history, that is his prerogative- he is bringing his vision to life. Imagine if someone did a musical based on ROOTS and all the African American roles were listed as “Asian” or “Hispanic”. Authors have the right to write the show they want. You think there isn’t enough diversity ? Writing a cunty attack on a new show doesn’t help- since you are such a wunderkind, go write your own non-white show. You are NOT part of the solution- you are part of the problem. I bet you picketed THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS as well. And p.s.- I’m black and I find you offensive, trite and an agitator.

    1. Hey nice try “Stefanee Okoro”! You are clearly a white aggitated person trying to conceal your ignorance. Let me tell you something, no POC would ever deny anything that Brett is saying in this article. I’m so sorry that you and many others feel that trying to build diversity in AMERICAN theatre means that you feel we are trying to diminish the importance of white people. Check your self. Brett: thank you for this. As a fellow ally, I am sick of having to hear my good minority actor friends having to deal with this in the industry. I find seeing diversity in entertainment beneficial and actually more entertaining. Cheers.

      1. I have zero stake in this, but I want to point out that “no POC would ever deny anything that Brett is saying in this article” is an example of both the “No True Scotsman” fallacy and the hasty generalization fallacy.

      2. I have zero stake in this argument, but I just wanted to point out that “no POC would ever deny anything that Brett is saying in this article” is an example of both the “No True Scotsman” fallacy and a huge, sweeping generalization. People of color are not identical.

    2. Ohh my dear Stefanee lol. You’ve seemed to have missed the entire point of the piece and you support your views with incongruous analogies. Did you read this thoroughly? This is an article about casting more than the writing. He’s not finding fault with what people have to say. As a matter of fact he makes a point to say that most of this material is written in a contemporary setting (today) for a contemporary audience so many characters could be CAST non white. In most cases, that wouldn’t require rewriting anything. So seeing this as an attack on a show (which he says on MORE than one occasion it’s not) is short sighted. In addition, the entire tone of your response is nasty, mean spirited and filled with negative energy…all while making assumptions you can’t back up. *smh* You disagree? Fine. You’re allowed. But don’t respond to a “cunty” article (and if you read it in the spirit in which it was meant, you’d see it’s not at all “cunty”) with a “cunty” response. It doesn’t make your point more valid and it won’t make anyone listen to your points.
      PS – I, too, am black and find YOU offensive, trite and woefully ignorant.

      1. What Rob said. And thanks to him for saying it with a sense of humor because I wasn’t going to. Brett did his homework and wrote a thoughtful article. Disagreement is always allowed, of course. Being a nasty cunnnn-try girl is not. I also know him personally and he has a huge heart and is a good guy and would never respond to anything he disagreed with in such a repellent manner. Smart (yet cowardly) of you to use a pseudonym.

  9. This is such an important blog- also only 10% of musical theatre that gets produced is by women. I’ve encountered a lot of sexism and many times have been assumed to be an actor performing in a concert instead of one of the writers. “You look like an actress, not a writer.” Barf!
    For people of color getting work produced the numbers are so low as well as you pointed out — as a music teacher in New York City I want my students to see writers that they can see themselves in. I want them to see casts of talented actors they can see themselves in. I want them to see conductors that they can see themselves in. I can tell them they can grow up to be anything but if they don’t see people of color and women in the roles, how will they see that their voice is valuable? A woman of color recently shared on Twitter that when she sent in her script as Lakisha, her name, she got 0 responses. When she just used her initials she was flooded with emails about her work. This makes me incredibly sad! We have to change this! Thank-you for your brave blog!!

    1. Thanks for sharing! The “Lakisha” story is a great point about how racism shows up systematically, in ways that people don’t recognize. We all want to believe that “the best person” got the job, while remaining ignorant of our biases.

      1. Ya and I am starting to sign my emails R. Griffin to make it uncles if I’m male or female- it sucks but slowly we can change things if we all make a real effort! Thanks again for this courageous post

  10. This is such an important blog- also only 10% of musical theatre that gets produced is by women. I’ve encountered a lot of sexism and many times have been assumed to be an actor performing in a concert instead of one of the writers. “You look like an actress, not a writer.” Barf!
    For people of color getting work produced the numbers are so low as well as you pointed out — as a music teacher in New York City I want my students to see writers that they can see themselves in. I want them to see casts of talented actors they can see themselves in. I want them to see conductors that they can see themselves in. I can tell them they can grow up to be anything but if they don’t see people of color and women in the roles, how will they see that their voice is valuable? A woman of color recently shared on Twitter that when she sent in her script as Lakisha, her name, she got 0 responses. When she just used her initials she was flooded with emails about her work. This makes me incredibly sad! We have to change this! Thank-you for your brave blog!!

    1. Thanks for sharing! The “Lakisha” story is a great point about how racism shows up systematically, in ways that people don’t recognize. We all want to believe that “the best person” got the job, while remaining ignorant of our biases.

      1. Ya and I am starting to sign my emails R. Griffin to make it uncles if I’m male or female- it sucks but slowly we can change things if we all make a real effort! Thanks again for this courageous post

  11. Brett you speak truth. I am one of the 4 to 5 people of color you discussed from newmusical theatre.com . I’ll say this, the color conscious writers are out here. Lyons and Pakchar is founded on cultural differences. It’s all business though, the people who produce works have to believe in diversity. Writers can write, but people with cash advance what they believe in. I have 3 projects in development. In one of which ever actor is painted and no ones race matters. We have to continue to spread consciousness for people to consider change. Keep voicing your words, you don’t stand alone. Know that we are out here trying!

  12. Brett you speak truth. I am one of the 4 to 5 people of color you discussed from newmusical theatre.com . I’ll say this, the color conscious writers are out here. Lyons and Pakchar is founded on cultural differences. It’s all business though, the people who produce works have to believe in diversity. Writers can write, but people with cash advance what they believe in. I have 3 projects in development. In one of which ever actor is painted and no ones race matters. We have to continue to spread consciousness for people to consider change. Keep voicing your words, you don’t stand alone. Know that we are out here trying!

  13. Brett, thank you for this. It’s so important for POC to have allies in this insane business. Stefanee, nobody would cast ROOTS the way you’ve suggested because it is a story about Black people. Nobody should cast THE KING & I with no Asians. The point Brett is making is if we’re telling a story where race isn’t playing a major factor (such as HAIRSPRAY, MISS SAIGON, THE COLOR PURPLE) POC should have equal opportunities for roles. I made my Broadway debut in Pasek & Paul’s A CHRISTMAS STORY. I know that a big reason for me getting the job was because I am Asian and they needed an Asian actor for the Chinese restaurant scene. I couldn’t help but think, “Would Asian actors even be invited to audition if it wasn’t for that one scene?” My guess is no, but who knows for sure. I’d challenge any creator of new musical theater to keep an open mind when bringing in actors for their shows. There are so many talented people being overlooked because of their race. PS. I find it offensive that a Black person would read this article and think its writer was part of the problem. You sound crazy. Peace.

  14. Brett, thank you for this. It’s so important for POC to have allies in this insane business. Stefanee, nobody would cast ROOTS the way you’ve suggested because it is a story about Black people. Nobody should cast THE KING & I with no Asians. The point Brett is making is if we’re telling a story where race isn’t playing a major factor (such as HAIRSPRAY, MISS SAIGON, THE COLOR PURPLE) POC should have equal opportunities for roles. I made my Broadway debut in Pasek & Paul’s A CHRISTMAS STORY. I know that a big reason for me getting the job was because I am Asian and they needed an Asian actor for the Chinese restaurant scene. I couldn’t help but think, “Would Asian actors even be invited to audition if it wasn’t for that one scene?” My guess is no, but who knows for sure. I’d challenge any creator of new musical theater to keep an open mind when bringing in actors for their shows. There are so many talented people being overlooked because of their race. PS. I find it offensive that a Black person would read this article and think its writer was part of the problem. You sound crazy. Peace.

  15. Dear Mr. Ryback

    Thank you for your contribution to this ongoing discussion- it is important that all of us theater folk speak up on these issues, or nothing changes.

    Best Wishes,
    @Equill
    Aka- The Fairy Princess Diaries

  16. Dear Mr. Ryback

    Thank you for your contribution to this ongoing discussion- it is important that all of us theater folk speak up on these issues, or nothing changes.

    Best Wishes,
    @Equill
    Aka- The Fairy Princess Diaries

  17. In our community, minority actors quickly go Union: there’s such a market for them that, as long as they are half decent, they’re going to get work. This hurts non-union companies, because the question then becomes: do you cast the actor who had the best callback, or do you cast diversely? Like it or not, theatre is a business,

    I’m not slamming actors who join the union, or the union itself. Many of us who create theatre here have a very sharp eye towards diversity. So what happens when you post a notice inviting actors of color to audition for certain roles, and those actors don’t show up?

    There’s more to casting than simply looking at the finished product.

    1. Can I ask what is more important than the finished project and completing the vision? Because that’s what I work for. My suggestion is to widen the casting pool. If you live in a place where PoC’s are few and far in between you have to widen the net because you don’t have enough people anyway. There are tons of PoC’s who are not union. Broaden the horizons.

      1. This is a very tossed-off response to a very complicated question.

        First, the process is every bit as important as the finished product. If I wind up with a predominantly white cast for a show where I’ve actively worked to encourage POC to audition, who is at fault? To be sure, there are companies that don’t do that level of outreach, but throwing shade on the community as a whole isn’t helpful.

        It’s true that the arts are a different sort of business than most anything else. You can’t just put out a job notice and expect that the universe of qualified people will apply. You have to do that outreach: you have to work harder to get the diversity you want.

        And still, you could do all that and still wind up with a non-diverse show. Is the company simply supposed to shut down the production because no POC was cast?

        I’m reminded of a somewhat recent production in town that was a non-American fable. The company did massive outreach to both the general acting population as well as groups where those specific POC actors would see the notice. This is a high quality, award-winning, non-equity company who pays quite well in this town, and draws large audiences.

        They got two (story specific) POC to audition.

        Your suggestion of “widen[ing] the casting pool” is borne from ignorance, but that’s hardly your fault. Again, this is a community where half-decent actors of color become equity rather quickly. I see a lot of theatre here, and work quite a bit. If those actors exist, they aren’t coming out to auditions.

        So, again, I’m forced to ask the question: do you cast minority actors at the expense of a white actor who performs closer to your vision? Does it matter if you have a diverse show if the show is panned and no one comes? What about a market that is oversaturated with theatre? Are any exceptions made when we consider this? That’s the hardest part of this conversation: trying to apply sensibilities to the medium as a whole where individual actions count for more than that.

        It used to be, “If you build it, they will come.” Then it was, “Go ahead and build it, but you’ll need to tell people about it.” Now, it’s “If you build it, you’ll have to shout from the rooftops to get people to notice.”

    2. @madhatternalice I appreciate your dilemma and don’t doubt the difficulties you’re experiencing in trying to cast your shows diversely in your area (which I applaud you for and hope you continue despite the difficulties).

      Respectfully, Brett is focusing specifically on professional theatre here on the East coast where there is a plethora of actors of color to choose from and who do get called in or do attend open calls regularly, some of which I hope include actors of color from your area that have moved here and quickly become union members.

      What happens here more often than not, is that the call goes out and we go in and find no diversity in the final cast. Creative teams here are not faced with the challenges you face in your area in finding POC. It’s a different game out here and I think Brett is trying to hold them accountable for not making a greater attempt at diversity.

      1. @OMM

        Thanks for the clarification! I don’t read this blog normally, and I suspect the line “I am instead writing about my generation of musical theatre creators at large” made me think that this is a blanket statement, not something limited to a specific subset of theatres in a specific part of the country.

        That being said, I do make “professional theatre on the East coast” (DC). What we find in this market is that the larger the company, the less likely there will be outreach into underrepresented areas. In fact, the larger the company, the more likely they’ll be to cast out of NY (which happens with alarming regularity).

        I don’t want to pick on any one company, especially Signature (which has had some major financial problems), but when you look at their 2014-2015 season (http://www.sigtheatre.org/events/), you’ll see stills from the eight shows they did that season. Within those stills are 17 actors, all white. It honestly doesn’t even matter what the casting breakdown show-by-show ultimately was: this is a snapshot of their season, and it’s white. I don’t work for Signature, but I haven’t seen anything from them specifically looking for actors of color.

        And that, to me, is just as much of a problem. It’s about more than just how you cast: it’s how you represent yourself to your community. Who cares if one show of a season features three actors, all white, if your overall season is, say, 50% white and 50% actors of color. Ultimately, the work of a theatre company should be taken as a whole: it’s disingenuous to point to a company like Arena Stage and question their dedication to diversity in a season where they are putting up Destiny of Desire, Akeelah and the Bee, Sweat and Disregarded (http://www.arenastage.org/shows-tickets/the-season/). Should we all be striving for diversity? Absolutely. But let’s be more realistic about what we’re looking for, because otherwise this turns into a witch hunt, which helps no one.

    3. Thanks for your comments! You make a lot of great points in this thread, and I really appreciate you engaging in the conversation. You’re so right that the issue is complex and requires complex addressing. I think your point about outreach is so critical to the discussion. Outreach, of course, can take on many forms and I think they’re all important to utilize in order to start seeing a change. But the most visible form of outreach is for POC to see themselves truly and authentically represented in the theatre. That’s where we all get “bit by the bug” as the expression goes. It tells young POC – you matter, your voice matters, you can do this, too.

      Getting there is not without it’s constant dilemmas, as you make clear. I applaud and support your willingness to constantly engage in the struggle for bringing diversity to the stage!

  18. In our community, minority actors quickly go Union: there’s such a market for them that, as long as they are half decent, they’re going to get work. This hurts non-union companies, because the question then becomes: do you cast the actor who had the best callback, or do you cast diversely? Like it or not, theatre is a business,

    I’m not slamming actors who join the union, or the union itself. Many of us who create theatre here have a very sharp eye towards diversity. So what happens when you post a notice inviting actors of color to audition for certain roles, and those actors don’t show up?

    There’s more to casting than simply looking at the finished product.

    1. Can I ask what is more important than the finished project and completing the vision? Because that’s what I work for. My suggestion is to widen the casting pool. If you live in a place where PoC’s are few and far in between you have to widen the net because you don’t have enough people anyway. There are tons of PoC’s who are not union. Broaden the horizons.

      1. This is a very tossed-off response to a very complicated question.

        First, the process is every bit as important as the finished product. If I wind up with a predominantly white cast for a show where I’ve actively worked to encourage POC to audition, who is at fault? To be sure, there are companies that don’t do that level of outreach, but throwing shade on the community as a whole isn’t helpful.

        It’s true that the arts are a different sort of business than most anything else. You can’t just put out a job notice and expect that the universe of qualified people will apply. You have to do that outreach: you have to work harder to get the diversity you want.

        And still, you could do all that and still wind up with a non-diverse show. Is the company simply supposed to shut down the production because no POC was cast?

        I’m reminded of a somewhat recent production in town that was a non-American fable. The company did massive outreach to both the general acting population as well as groups where those specific POC actors would see the notice. This is a high quality, award-winning, non-equity company who pays quite well in this town, and draws large audiences.

        They got two (story specific) POC to audition.

        Your suggestion of “widen[ing] the casting pool” is borne from ignorance, but that’s hardly your fault. Again, this is a community where half-decent actors of color become equity rather quickly. I see a lot of theatre here, and work quite a bit. If those actors exist, they aren’t coming out to auditions.

        So, again, I’m forced to ask the question: do you cast minority actors at the expense of a white actor who performs closer to your vision? Does it matter if you have a diverse show if the show is panned and no one comes? What about a market that is oversaturated with theatre? Are any exceptions made when we consider this? That’s the hardest part of this conversation: trying to apply sensibilities to the medium as a whole where individual actions count for more than that.

        It used to be, “If you build it, they will come.” Then it was, “Go ahead and build it, but you’ll need to tell people about it.” Now, it’s “If you build it, you’ll have to shout from the rooftops to get people to notice.”

    2. @madhatternalice I appreciate your dilemma and don’t doubt the difficulties you’re experiencing in trying to cast your shows diversely in your area (which I applaud you for and hope you continue despite the difficulties).

      Respectfully, Brett is focusing specifically on professional theatre here on the East coast where there is a plethora of actors of color to choose from and who do get called in or do attend open calls regularly, some of which I hope include actors of color from your area that have moved here and quickly become union members.

      What happens here more often than not, is that the call goes out and we go in and find no diversity in the final cast. Creative teams here are not faced with the challenges you face in your area in finding POC. It’s a different game out here and I think Brett is trying to hold them accountable for not making a greater attempt at diversity.

      1. @OMM

        Thanks for the clarification! I don’t read this blog normally, and I suspect the line “I am instead writing about my generation of musical theatre creators at large” made me think that this is a blanket statement, not something limited to a specific subset of theatres in a specific part of the country.

        That being said, I do make “professional theatre on the East coast” (DC). What we find in this market is that the larger the company, the less likely there will be outreach into underrepresented areas. In fact, the larger the company, the more likely they’ll be to cast out of NY (which happens with alarming regularity).

        I don’t want to pick on any one company, especially Signature (which has had some major financial problems), but when you look at their 2014-2015 season (http://www.sigtheatre.org/events/), you’ll see stills from the eight shows they did that season. Within those stills are 17 actors, all white. It honestly doesn’t even matter what the casting breakdown show-by-show ultimately was: this is a snapshot of their season, and it’s white. I don’t work for Signature, but I haven’t seen anything from them specifically looking for actors of color.

        And that, to me, is just as much of a problem. It’s about more than just how you cast: it’s how you represent yourself to your community. Who cares if one show of a season features three actors, all white, if your overall season is, say, 50% white and 50% actors of color. Ultimately, the work of a theatre company should be taken as a whole: it’s disingenuous to point to a company like Arena Stage and question their dedication to diversity in a season where they are putting up Destiny of Desire, Akeelah and the Bee, Sweat and Disregarded (http://www.arenastage.org/shows-tickets/the-season/). Should we all be striving for diversity? Absolutely. But let’s be more realistic about what we’re looking for, because otherwise this turns into a witch hunt, which helps no one.

    3. Thanks for your comments! You make a lot of great points in this thread, and I really appreciate you engaging in the conversation. You’re so right that the issue is complex and requires complex addressing. I think your point about outreach is so critical to the discussion. Outreach, of course, can take on many forms and I think they’re all important to utilize in order to start seeing a change. But the most visible form of outreach is for POC to see themselves truly and authentically represented in the theatre. That’s where we all get “bit by the bug” as the expression goes. It tells young POC – you matter, your voice matters, you can do this, too.

      Getting there is not without it’s constant dilemmas, as you make clear. I applaud and support your willingness to constantly engage in the struggle for bringing diversity to the stage!

  19. I believe it was Harold Pinter who said, “Theatre is where we can take the greatest risks, yet where we take the least.”

  20. I believe it was Harold Pinter who said, “Theatre is where we can take the greatest risks, yet where we take the least.”

  21. Hi!

    My name I Alison Holman and I am a new musical theatre writer and I have a brand new REALLY GOOD show that I am desperately trying to get funded and looked at seriously that is relevant and has an interracial cast of different looks and body types! It’s called ‘Freedom’s Song’ and we are being followed by Playbill for an online documentary series AND we are currently doing an Indiegogo to raise funds! It’s a story about an interracial family living during the Civil War era and takes a look at our current social issues through the lense of history and it’s getting great response but we need support! We are out here writing good, new, relevant shows but we need HELP to get the word out and get noticed! This show would give work to not only actors and singers of different races, but we’re trying to buck the stereotyped ‘look’ and cast different body types as well, not everyone needs to be a size 2 to be on stage!!!! Please, we ARE trying and we are out here and want to make a difference!!!
    https://www.facebook.com/freedomssongmusical

  22. Hi!

    My name I Alison Holman and I am a new musical theatre writer and I have a brand new REALLY GOOD show that I am desperately trying to get funded and looked at seriously that is relevant and has an interracial cast of different looks and body types! It’s called ‘Freedom’s Song’ and we are being followed by Playbill for an online documentary series AND we are currently doing an Indiegogo to raise funds! It’s a story about an interracial family living during the Civil War era and takes a look at our current social issues through the lense of history and it’s getting great response but we need support! We are out here writing good, new, relevant shows but we need HELP to get the word out and get noticed! This show would give work to not only actors and singers of different races, but we’re trying to buck the stereotyped ‘look’ and cast different body types as well, not everyone needs to be a size 2 to be on stage!!!! Please, we ARE trying and we are out here and want to make a difference!!!
    https://www.facebook.com/freedomssongmusical

  23. Why is it a writer’s job to cater to a specific demographic? All that does is give preference to one race over another, which only perpetuates the problem, not fix it. Most of the comments here all seem to think that the solution is to cast people of color over Caucasians, regardless of whether or not that actually fits into the creative director’s vision of the show. How about instead of forcing casting directors and producers to meet some sort of diversity quota just to make a small group of people happy, you allow the creatives to do what they do best: create art.

    If you feel that there isn’t enough representation of a certain race or background in today’s contemporary theatre, go do something about it, and that’s not meant in a passive-aggressive way. Penning a project from a unique point of view that isn’t getting enough coverage at the time is a fantastic way of bringing something fresh and new to the scene. Some of the best scripts I’ve ever read were from authors who had something important to say and felt they felt their voice wasn’t being heard!

    So instead of attacking other productions for not filling a quota, how about you guys go out there and do it yourselves. You have to be the change you want to see in the world; demanding that everyone else changes their standards and practices to meet your own has never worked, and certainly won’t in this case.

    Get out there and write and produce new, fresh shows that give us these unique perspectives you feel are missing from the current theatre climate and you’ll likely find that many more will follow in your footsteps!

    1. No one is asking for preferential treatment, but again creatives follow the thought process of write what you know a lot of the time and that causes problems because it blocks out entire groups of people and doesn’t allow us all to be included in these stories. While your answer of course seems simple enough minority writers (Women & People of Color included) are rarely able to acquire the funding and backing that most mainstream writers are able to acquire. When you also factor in that poverty does unfortunately sometimes have a color you find that in underprivileged communities the Arts are the first to go. I know from experience. Couple that with the fact that many people are still afraid to produce stories about PoC’s because they think others won’t relate. No one is asking for special treatment we’re asking for equality and a place in the conversation instead of not even being allowed to sit at the table because our skin is the wrong color.

    2. “Why is it a writer’s job to cater to a specific demographic? All that does is give preference to one race over another, which only perpetuates the problem, not fix it. ” Funny you mention that because a large percentage of TV/FILM/Theater IS catering to a demographic. White, heterosexual men.

    3. It’s not the writer’s job to cater to a demographic. It’s the writer’s job to tell a story. It’s the theatre company’s responsibility, when picking a season, to ensure that their selections foster a spirit of diversity. There’s nothing wrong with a show written for an all-white cast, just as there’s no guarantee that a theatre company will want to perform said show.

    4. Tyler, you’re absolutely right that the best critique of a work of art is another work of art. That said, racism is something deeply engrained in our systems. It requires conscious thought and awareness in order to tackle it. That’s why I think it’s important for a call to action to go out. It’s not about filling a quota, but rather about opening your eyes to the world around you.

  24. Why is it a writer’s job to cater to a specific demographic? All that does is give preference to one race over another, which only perpetuates the problem, not fix it. Most of the comments here all seem to think that the solution is to cast people of color over Caucasians, regardless of whether or not that actually fits into the creative director’s vision of the show. How about instead of forcing casting directors and producers to meet some sort of diversity quota just to make a small group of people happy, you allow the creatives to do what they do best: create art.

    If you feel that there isn’t enough representation of a certain race or background in today’s contemporary theatre, go do something about it, and that’s not meant in a passive-aggressive way. Penning a project from a unique point of view that isn’t getting enough coverage at the time is a fantastic way of bringing something fresh and new to the scene. Some of the best scripts I’ve ever read were from authors who had something important to say and felt they felt their voice wasn’t being heard!

    So instead of attacking other productions for not filling a quota, how about you guys go out there and do it yourselves. You have to be the change you want to see in the world; demanding that everyone else changes their standards and practices to meet your own has never worked, and certainly won’t in this case.

    Get out there and write and produce new, fresh shows that give us these unique perspectives you feel are missing from the current theatre climate and you’ll likely find that many more will follow in your footsteps!

    1. No one is asking for preferential treatment, but again creatives follow the thought process of write what you know a lot of the time and that causes problems because it blocks out entire groups of people and doesn’t allow us all to be included in these stories. While your answer of course seems simple enough minority writers (Women & People of Color included) are rarely able to acquire the funding and backing that most mainstream writers are able to acquire. When you also factor in that poverty does unfortunately sometimes have a color you find that in underprivileged communities the Arts are the first to go. I know from experience. Couple that with the fact that many people are still afraid to produce stories about PoC’s because they think others won’t relate. No one is asking for special treatment we’re asking for equality and a place in the conversation instead of not even being allowed to sit at the table because our skin is the wrong color.

    2. “Why is it a writer’s job to cater to a specific demographic? All that does is give preference to one race over another, which only perpetuates the problem, not fix it. ” Funny you mention that because a large percentage of TV/FILM/Theater IS catering to a demographic. White, heterosexual men.

    3. It’s not the writer’s job to cater to a demographic. It’s the writer’s job to tell a story. It’s the theatre company’s responsibility, when picking a season, to ensure that their selections foster a spirit of diversity. There’s nothing wrong with a show written for an all-white cast, just as there’s no guarantee that a theatre company will want to perform said show.

    4. Tyler, you’re absolutely right that the best critique of a work of art is another work of art. That said, racism is something deeply engrained in our systems. It requires conscious thought and awareness in order to tackle it. That’s why I think it’s important for a call to action to go out. It’s not about filling a quota, but rather about opening your eyes to the world around you.

  25. Bravo, Brett! For all the opinions about white audiences only attracted to white shows with white people, I would like to direct them to the Richard Rodgers Theatre where HAMILTON is currently playing and wish them luck in trying to get a ticket for this year or winning that pre-show lottery that is drawing crowds by the hundreds at every performance. Are you paying attention, ROUNDABOUT?!?!

  26. Bravo, Brett! For all the opinions about white audiences only attracted to white shows with white people, I would like to direct them to the Richard Rodgers Theatre where HAMILTON is currently playing and wish them luck in trying to get a ticket for this year or winning that pre-show lottery that is drawing crowds by the hundreds at every performance. Are you paying attention, ROUNDABOUT?!?!

  27. I think you hit it on the nose with the “write what you know” comment. I mean, really what is any different here than what Lin-Manuel Miranda is doing in specifying “non-white?” That, I am assuming, is what he knows and what he gravitates toward as a person of color. Writers and directors will lean by default toward creating something with which they can personally identify, and no matter how color-blind or post-racial most liberal, white theater folk wish to be, the truth of the matter is we come from different worlds than people of other ethnicities. More inclusive casting is certainly something to aspire to, but perhaps a more realistic answer is to encourage more ethnic folk to write and/or direct for the musical theatre…???

    1. The HAMILTON problem: The casting of HAMILTON is a brilliant enrichment of this specific story, it’s not a general solution. The roles specified as non-white represent the upstarts and strivers of the colonies, and the casting gives us a visceral connection that would otherwise be much weaker. But if the show were to be mounted in a monocultural locale, monocultural casting would not betray the story.

      The writing problem: any story taking place in the United States before 1970 shows a de facto segregated society, leaving the writer who values both diversity and verisimilitude no good choices (unless their story happens to have racial relations near its center). For example, if I were to tell stories from my suburban childhood, they could be either [a] essentially white [b] essentially African-American [c] essentially about race [d] essentially inauthentic in a way that will take anyone over 40 out of the story.

      The casting problem: there’s no excuse for white-by-default in a contemporary story, or for classics. On the other hand, “A Christmas Story” and “Dogfight” are period pieces, and color-blind casting would have been a problem. Wildhorn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” fell into the most awkward slot: it felt weird that there were only white people on the stage, but an integrated ensemble might have been worse.

      The audience problem: saying that POC won’t pay $100 for a ticket is just wrong. There are plenty of big-ticket entertainments with primarily non-white audiences: concerts. The real issue is that taking arts funding out of the public schools has made the whole idea of live theatre an alien one, unless you got the habit from your parents.

      The curatorial problem: This is where I think the easiest improvement lies, and therefore the most blame should fall. It’s easy to find worthy plays which don’t require an all-white cast, just as it’s easy to find plays that aren’t by men. Curating a season which is all male writers or 95%-white casting means you’re not doing your job properly and should hand it off to someone else.

    2. Michael, I think your point about encouraging and enabling more POC to write and direct and produce is very true and important. This is a good way to include their cultural and personal perspectives in the dialogue. But I think it can also be limiting to say, “POC: go write about diversity, White People: go write white stories.” Don’t white people live in a world that includes POC, too? Especially if you live in NYC? I know I do! That should be part of our storytelling as well.

  28. I think you hit it on the nose with the “write what you know” comment. I mean, really what is any different here than what Lin-Manuel Miranda is doing in specifying “non-white?” That, I am assuming, is what he knows and what he gravitates toward as a person of color. Writers and directors will lean by default toward creating something with which they can personally identify, and no matter how color-blind or post-racial most liberal, white theater folk wish to be, the truth of the matter is we come from different worlds than people of other ethnicities. More inclusive casting is certainly something to aspire to, but perhaps a more realistic answer is to encourage more ethnic folk to write and/or direct for the musical theatre…???

    1. The HAMILTON problem: The casting of HAMILTON is a brilliant enrichment of this specific story, it’s not a general solution. The roles specified as non-white represent the upstarts and strivers of the colonies, and the casting gives us a visceral connection that would otherwise be much weaker. But if the show were to be mounted in a monocultural locale, monocultural casting would not betray the story.

      The writing problem: any story taking place in the United States before 1970 shows a de facto segregated society, leaving the writer who values both diversity and verisimilitude no good choices (unless their story happens to have racial relations near its center). For example, if I were to tell stories from my suburban childhood, they could be either [a] essentially white [b] essentially African-American [c] essentially about race [d] essentially inauthentic in a way that will take anyone over 40 out of the story.

      The casting problem: there’s no excuse for white-by-default in a contemporary story, or for classics. On the other hand, “A Christmas Story” and “Dogfight” are period pieces, and color-blind casting would have been a problem. Wildhorn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” fell into the most awkward slot: it felt weird that there were only white people on the stage, but an integrated ensemble might have been worse.

      The audience problem: saying that POC won’t pay $100 for a ticket is just wrong. There are plenty of big-ticket entertainments with primarily non-white audiences: concerts. The real issue is that taking arts funding out of the public schools has made the whole idea of live theatre an alien one, unless you got the habit from your parents.

      The curatorial problem: This is where I think the easiest improvement lies, and therefore the most blame should fall. It’s easy to find worthy plays which don’t require an all-white cast, just as it’s easy to find plays that aren’t by men. Curating a season which is all male writers or 95%-white casting means you’re not doing your job properly and should hand it off to someone else.

    2. Michael, I think your point about encouraging and enabling more POC to write and direct and produce is very true and important. This is a good way to include their cultural and personal perspectives in the dialogue. But I think it can also be limiting to say, “POC: go write about diversity, White People: go write white stories.” Don’t white people live in a world that includes POC, too? Especially if you live in NYC? I know I do! That should be part of our storytelling as well.

  29. In order to be able to interpret the pie chart properly we need to know the ethnic diversity of the pool of performers from which the casts were selected. That may not be the same as ethnic diversity of the population as a whole.

    1. It’s a fair point, for sure. But I think more than anything is exemplifies that a disconnect exists. The first part toward any solution is admitting there is a problem.

  30. In order to be able to interpret the pie chart properly we need to know the ethnic diversity of the pool of performers from which the casts were selected. That may not be the same as ethnic diversity of the population as a whole.

    1. It’s a fair point, for sure. But I think more than anything is exemplifies that a disconnect exists. The first part toward any solution is admitting there is a problem.

  31. Super smart post, Brett! Check out my book The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical which tackles this topic as well 🙂 (And yes, it’s up to us white folks to help fix the problem. I’m a playwright as well and of the 4 plays I’ve written, 3 of them all require actors of color).

  32. Super smart post, Brett! Check out my book The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical which tackles this topic as well 🙂 (And yes, it’s up to us white folks to help fix the problem. I’m a playwright as well and of the 4 plays I’ve written, 3 of them all require actors of color).

  33. Maybe it’s a play about white people written by white people for white people…
    Is that so different from BET which has ALL shows about black people for black people…??
    Just saying…

  34. Maybe it’s a play about white people written by white people for white people…
    Is that so different from BET which has ALL shows about black people for black people…??
    Just saying…

  35. Here’s another thought- there’s not only the issue of race, but one of class. The sad reality is, musical theater training is prohibitively expensive. The landscape will continue to reflect this until we address this issue too: so often, I think, we wind up with situations where the “best” actor for a role winds up being affluent (and often white) because they’ve got money behind them: family money to have attended expensive training programs, money to have done summer stock for free instead of working during college, and money to perfect audition material with a coach.

    There are a lot of things propagating the status quo. I think it’s important we talk about this one too.

  36. Here’s another thought- there’s not only the issue of race, but one of class. The sad reality is, musical theater training is prohibitively expensive. The landscape will continue to reflect this until we address this issue too: so often, I think, we wind up with situations where the “best” actor for a role winds up being affluent (and often white) because they’ve got money behind them: family money to have attended expensive training programs, money to have done summer stock for free instead of working during college, and money to perfect audition material with a coach.

    There are a lot of things propagating the status quo. I think it’s important we talk about this one too.

  37. Interesting article. In the numerous musicals I’m working on/created, I have in every character description: “multi-ethnic casting encouraged.” In my newest project (un)Lucky In Love, our main female character is described as “a woman who represents today’s NYC” and our producers are excited to find the next Mindy Kailing or Margaret Cho or Amy Schumer for a theatre audience.
    This leads me to the following: how many non-white casting directors are out there? Non-white producers? I don’t think the writers are fully to blame. We as a community need to work harder together to create greater casting choices.

    1. Bobby, I totally agree. The issue needs to be addressed on all fronts. But as you know, writers have a big say in who gets cast in their shows, particularly during the piece’s early life. And I would argue that the writers, more than anyone else, probably have the biggest stake in demonstrating verisimilitude. Again – reflect the world as it truly is, or risk irrelevance.

  38. Interesting article. In the numerous musicals I’m working on/created, I have in every character description: “multi-ethnic casting encouraged.” In my newest project (un)Lucky In Love, our main female character is described as “a woman who represents today’s NYC” and our producers are excited to find the next Mindy Kailing or Margaret Cho or Amy Schumer for a theatre audience.
    This leads me to the following: how many non-white casting directors are out there? Non-white producers? I don’t think the writers are fully to blame. We as a community need to work harder together to create greater casting choices.

    1. Bobby, I totally agree. The issue needs to be addressed on all fronts. But as you know, writers have a big say in who gets cast in their shows, particularly during the piece’s early life. And I would argue that the writers, more than anyone else, probably have the biggest stake in demonstrating verisimilitude. Again – reflect the world as it truly is, or risk irrelevance.

  39. Justin,
    There has to be a BET because of the challenges that community faced in the history of this country to have an avenue of cultural expression. One cannot compare the two. White culture has always been the dominant culture. African American culture has fought for centuries to equal the playing field for them. Assuming those two comparisons are the same is “color blindness” and is simply not seeing that there is still a race issue in this country- even in the arts, and especially in musical theater.

  40. Justin,
    There has to be a BET because of the challenges that community faced in the history of this country to have an avenue of cultural expression. One cannot compare the two. White culture has always been the dominant culture. African American culture has fought for centuries to equal the playing field for them. Assuming those two comparisons are the same is “color blindness” and is simply not seeing that there is still a race issue in this country- even in the arts, and especially in musical theater.

  41. As someone who has seen and written about both Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen (http://mediathroughmomseyes.blogspot.com) I take issue with much of this article, not because race and gender diversity and access aren’t an issue, because that is a truism be it in theater, corporate workplace, schools, and multiple aspects of society, but because in my opinion the two shows you use to underpin your point are actually doing quite the opposite. I appreciated someone’s earlier comment regarding the slate for Arena Stage’s upcoming season because it is an important point. Arena Stage is a company that has thrived at pushing to the broadest of creative risk, something I would argue the success of Next to Normal provides a shinning example of pedigree. So the idea that Dear Evan Hansen is a symptom to a problem strikes me as short sighted and a bit tone deaf, especially considering you haven’t seen the production. I fear you’ve missed the problem it is in fact addressing — the creation of original work from non-sourced material. When you look at the current Broadway boards and what is original in musical theater and what is driving the business of theater? That is an entirely different conversation.

    Dear Evan Hansen is in fact a beautiful new original work that explores the very real complexities of a world that has changed how we intersect as people. It opens up and explores questions of how we are more connected than ever but arguably more isolated. It speaks to a growing propensity given the 24 hour access to news and media for people to define themselves within historic moments or moments of tragedy. I am a 42 year old Puerto Rican woman who sat through this production and could easily see a part of my younger self and to a smaller degree my current self in the show’s namesake. Because at its core the musical speaks to a human experience, one we can and often have all shared to some degree. The isolation of being invisible within our own lives. Yes, the cast is white washed, but it doesn’t feel deliberate as much as it feels reflective. As a person of color who grew up loving theater – all theater seeing a society reflected with me in it was hard to come by for certain. I’ve also seen this evolve and change, whether its been in mounting re-envisioned Shakespeare or the creation of shows like Clybourne Park and musicals like RENT. It’s not perfect, it’s not always successful and it isn’t utopia. But that is more reflective of the imperfection of society, not merely the theater. Classics are being done with casts of color where once they’d been traditionally white, The 2012 revival of Streetcar Named Desire immediately comes to mind. Ensembles being diverse and works of relevancy telling the stories that are reflective of my experiences – like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights are equally important I agree. But what I know as a woman of color who has been invisible in parts of society, across different moments of my entire life is that tearing down someone elses truth does not elevate my own. It doesn’t open one’s mind to a different experience, it only entrenches that which we’d most like to see change.

    Lin-Manuel Miranda said upon the closing of In the Heights that one of the things that most excited him was the idea of a young white mid-westerner playing Usnavi in a High School production someday waving a Puerto Rican flag. He understands that what connects us is our humanity. The idea that when we connect on that level the diversity of experience that comes from being female, black, Asian, Latino, gay, straight, wealthy, poor, etc. will be seen and heard. Which leads us to Hamilton and its much talked about casting. What Lin has said over and over is what connected him to Chernow’s work was that it is an immigrant story – not a white man’s story, not a founding father’s story – an immigrant story. That was the seed. And having seen the evolution of this show from it’s original mounting at the Public to seeing the Broadway production a couple of weeks ago, that is the shinning point of what he’s created. He’s tapped into something that transcends because he fundamentally understood that the founding of our country is in fact OUR story. The cadence of “Who lives who dies who tells your story” resonates for a variety of reasons in Hamilton. Yes, the casting takes visual ownership of the fact that the creation of the country belongs to all of us. It is a reflection that the societal challenges and divides we face as a nation today aren’t dramatically different than the ones that we faced as a nation being born. The magic of Hamilton is its authenticity. A trait shared by the writing in Dear Evan Hansen, a show that needs work, much like Hamilton did at the Public, but whose foundation is solid.

    Discussion of changing the paradigm does need to come in action at all levels. Creating new works that share stories and experiences from all facets of life young, old, happy, sad, and the list goes on is vital to art and our evolving view of the world we inhabit. It requires children in school being exposed to an expanse of art, ideas, history and culture. It requires bravery to mount work that is authentic to the voice of the author. Jennie Urman (showrunner for Jane the Virgin) has been asked countless times how she conceived and writes for a show about 3 generations of Latin women. Her answer: that she wrote human stories that happen to be told through the lens of a Latina’s experience. Yes, they have diverse voices in the writers room too and yes they take tips from the actors who are Puerto Rican to bring nuance. That’s part of the creative process and evolution of something that is great. An evolution that Hamilton has taken. One that Dear Evan Hansen has also just begun. But if you don’t begin from the idea of writing a human story, you will never fully connect to a broader audience to gain understanding. Billy Porter is famous for saying you change hearts when you change your mind. Wanting diversity and better representation of who we are as a people is a challenge across all facets of society, theater being just one of those places. In my opinion, calling out the whiteness of something minimizes both the work that Pasek and Paul have created and it undermines the work that Lin-Manuel Miranda has created. Authentic creative expression needs to be nurtured and have the ability to thrive across all lines be they race, gender or class.

    1. I’m with you here. The more I think about this issue, the clearer it becomes that the writers are the least to blame in any of this, it’s the limited vision of those who choose repertory and casts.

      If I read 100 plays blind, of which half are written by women, but discover my top 10 are all written by men, I would be obliged to ask myself if my tastes weren’t somehow tilted in ways I’m not aware of. Variations of that question must be asked if there are no nonwhite characters, or no white characters, or if they’re all urban stories, or all rural stories, all straight, all gay…or really *any* bias that I’m not consciously aware of.

      That doesn’t mean there is, only that the question must be faced honestly.

      1. I appreciate this nuanced point. Being conscious of what drives creative decisions is very different from blind ignorance. Considering bias when producing a work is important when you are crafting a production, but I would argue even moreso when you are designing a season. It’s why the authors piece struck me as a sucker punch. Dear Evan Hansen was an add on to their schedule – thus why it is being mounted in the doldrums of summer, as opposed to a more vibrant time in DC for theater. And next on their slate is Destiny of Desire a work from a Latina playwright and Latino director with Akeelah and the Bee arriving later this season. And finally an African American woman is going to play the female lead in their production of Oliver. I revisited Dear Evan Hansen with my daughter a couple of nights ago with this blog and my response in my head. There was a talk back afterwards that affirmed my initial and continued reaction to the piece. The story Pasek and Paul have created works on multiple levels because of it’s baseline touching into a human experience that is universal. The whiteness of the cast works within the story because there is a clear undercurrent of the way class plays into decision making and frankly diverse casting would have changed the dynamic and motivations of the story and its characters which in my opinion would potentially compromise the vision of this creative team. I am humbled by the productions of both Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton. Both have stories to tell that are worth hearing. Making space and creating avenues for a multitude of voices is vitally important in the theater. I think the above decry by Brett Ryback misses because he minimizes the work of both shows to do so.

    2. Hi! I wanted to thank you for writing such a thought out response to the post. I appreciate your comments, and as a writer of new musical theatre I share and support your enthusiasm for new works that are not based on pre-existing source material. It’s something I hope to continue seeing in the medium.

      You are correct – I haven’t yet seen Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen, and so I cannot discuss with you the content of their stories. I understand the synopsis of Evan Hansen, however, and from articles and comments I think I can digest the general themes they are communicating. Themes that are not necessarily new to musical theatre, though perhaps very poignant nonetheless.

      While I agree with your point that truth and authenticity is paramount for any story to be told well, I disagree with your point (and Eric’s below) that the writers are somehow exempt from this responsibility. My question still stands: if all the characters in your contemporary show are white…what world are they living in? How is that true and authentic?

      You argue that Evan Hansen transcends race, and yet you also say that class (and whiteness) play an integral part of the story, such that removing it would “change the dynamic and motivations of the story and its characters” and would “potentially compromise the vision of this creative team.”

      Without seeing the show I can only surmise you mean that the characters maybe struggle with their whiteness and their class situation amidst the tragedy and the following actions that ensue? But even if that is the case, I still have to wonder: isn’t that just white people writing shows about white people for white people?

      I understand your point that universal truths about the human condition transcend boundaries. I can be moved by an August Wilson play that tells the story of a situation that I have never been in. But when it is used to defend white centric theatre, I find the argument flawed. That situation leaves little room for the form to grow either in scope of story telling or audience. When all our human truths are told mostly in the form of “white male experience,” isn’t that a limitation to the medium? And whether the truth is being told or not, we always have to ask ourselves from an artistic standpoint – who are we even talking to anymore?

      Finally, I just wanted to share some articles about diversity in casting that I thought were pertinent to my point about the responsibility of the writers. Both of them are from the Hollywood Reporter (which did an article about Lin-Manuel this past issue that was very interesting.)

      The first article was written by Tony Goldwyn who plays the President on ABC’s Scandal. Here’s the link: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/scandals-tony-goldwyn-tv-film-797866

      In discussing the challenges of adding diversity into programming and coming up against resistance from TV networks and producers (theatre translation: artistic directors, producers, theatre companies) he says: “It’s on us. The artists as innovators.Corporations are designed not only to make money but to minimize risk. Artists are just the opposite. We are predisposed to try new things, to break new ground, to change the game.”

      The second article was an insert in the Lin-Manuel article and was written by Jen Euston, a casting director for Orange is the New Black, among other shows. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/hamiltons-lin-manuel-miranda-finding-814657

      In discussing the situation a casting director like her finds herself in she says: “As casting directors, we’re given a script where the world is laid out — usually a male-dominated, homogeneous, Caucasian one, exactly what you’re used to seeing on your TV. We make suggestions — to change the race or gender of certain characters and bring in an array of choices — and hope that our voices are heard.”

      She closes her article with a fantastic point. “Casting directors need brave execs, writers and directors to give us characters we can embody with all the beautiful underrepresented talent out there, waiting to be revealed. Just because the majority of creators aren’t women, minorities or members of the LGBT community doesn’t mean they can’t tell those stories well, successfully and loudly.”

      Thanks again for your comments. I appreciate your contribution to the ongoing conversation!

      1. Thank you for your response, I thought it warranted some clarification on my part, particularly because I don’t take issue with the central premise of the need for diverse voices in theater, especially musical theater. I took issue with your using “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Hamilton” as the point and counterpoint to the argument.

        You Wrote: I disagree with your point (and Eric’s below) that the writers are somehow exempt from this responsibility. My question still stands: if all the characters in your contemporary show are white…what world are they living in? How is that true and authentic?

        I never said writers were exempt from responsibility of bringing stories that are representative of the world we live in today. I just merely stated that as someone who has sat in both of these shows (twice) and as a person has fully experienced what it is to be invisiblized across many facets of society tearing down someones truth (in this example Pasek and Pauls story) to lift up or reflect a contemporary envisioning of a community isn’t necessary to solve the underlying problem of the lack of diversity within musical theater.

        As to your question about what world are they living in and how is it true or authentic? I would tell you very much so. There are affluent suburbs and communities across this country that are white washed and that don’t look very different from the community I grew up in nearly 30 years ago where I was the token Latina in a classroom and can count on less than one hand the number of African American students in my school. The same can be said for communities surrounding the Washington, DC area where I live today. So is it more common to have integrated communities in the suburbs, sure. I would argue however that from what I have seen and experienced as a parent and a professional working in all facets of education that ‘token diversity’ is alive and well. From where I sit a story can lack a diverse community and still be true and authentic. Because if a show that focused in on a story that only presented a cast of African Americans or Latinas it would not be questioned for it’s lack of diversity why should we question one that is all white or all Asian or all gay characters? Needing diverse storytelling doesn’t mean the absence of homogenous ones. The fact is, there is no expectation for your theory to work in reverse. No one would question a fully minority cast telling a story about about the South Bronx not having white people in it. But white people live in the South Bronx. Yes, there are more integrated communities and experiences in contemporary society. Those are valid stories that should and need to be told. That need doesn’t dismiss the reality that experiences, and stories occur in the absence of them. Had “Dear Evan Hansen” clearly taken place in an urban setting I would perhaps see your point, but it doesn’t.

        You Wrote: You argue that Evan Hansen transcends race, and yet you also say that class (and whiteness) play an integral part of the story, such that removing it would “change the dynamic and motivations of the story and its characters” and would “potentially compromise the vision of this creative team.” Without seeing the show I can only surmise you mean that the characters maybe struggle with their whiteness and their class situation amidst the tragedy and the following actions that ensue? But even if that is the case, I still have to wonder: isn’t that just white people writing shows about white people for white people?

        In a word, no. The issue of class isn’t spelled out so much as it is an instigator of some of the choices the central character makes and the reactions to others within the show. The affluent family vs. working class and how those realities play into our choices as parents is a thread of the overarching story. It’s not a pronounced part of the show, but a nuance that factors into motivations. As for my statement about the change in dynamic, it is more complicated than “white people writing shows about and for white people”. And it is trite to infer that I am defending the show’s human experience to as an excuse “to defend white centric theater”. When you add the dynamic of race to a situation in innately changes a story, because it adds a layer regarding privilege, access and experience. It’s not as simple as saying – well, Connor could have been black or the parents could have been an interacial couple. For this story those changes have real implications around identity in a coming of age story and how one is perceieved and seen. Social aniexty is vastly different than social isolation driven from fear based on race. That is what I mean when I say it inherently changes the dynamic. I am not saying that isn’t a worthy story to tell, I am merely saying that isn’t the story being told here.

        Again, I don’t disagree with you regarding the responsibility and need for diverse voices in art from the writers room to the casting room to the executive suites of producers. I simply think you chose the wrong two shows to make your point.

  42. As someone who has seen and written about both Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen (http://mediathroughmomseyes.blogspot.com) I take issue with much of this article, not because race and gender diversity and access aren’t an issue, because that is a truism be it in theater, corporate workplace, schools, and multiple aspects of society, but because in my opinion the two shows you use to underpin your point are actually doing quite the opposite. I appreciated someone’s earlier comment regarding the slate for Arena Stage’s upcoming season because it is an important point. Arena Stage is a company that has thrived at pushing to the broadest of creative risk, something I would argue the success of Next to Normal provides a shinning example of pedigree. So the idea that Dear Evan Hansen is a symptom to a problem strikes me as short sighted and a bit tone deaf, especially considering you haven’t seen the production. I fear you’ve missed the problem it is in fact addressing — the creation of original work from non-sourced material. When you look at the current Broadway boards and what is original in musical theater and what is driving the business of theater? That is an entirely different conversation.

    Dear Evan Hansen is in fact a beautiful new original work that explores the very real complexities of a world that has changed how we intersect as people. It opens up and explores questions of how we are more connected than ever but arguably more isolated. It speaks to a growing propensity given the 24 hour access to news and media for people to define themselves within historic moments or moments of tragedy. I am a 42 year old Puerto Rican woman who sat through this production and could easily see a part of my younger self and to a smaller degree my current self in the show’s namesake. Because at its core the musical speaks to a human experience, one we can and often have all shared to some degree. The isolation of being invisible within our own lives. Yes, the cast is white washed, but it doesn’t feel deliberate as much as it feels reflective. As a person of color who grew up loving theater – all theater seeing a society reflected with me in it was hard to come by for certain. I’ve also seen this evolve and change, whether its been in mounting re-envisioned Shakespeare or the creation of shows like Clybourne Park and musicals like RENT. It’s not perfect, it’s not always successful and it isn’t utopia. But that is more reflective of the imperfection of society, not merely the theater. Classics are being done with casts of color where once they’d been traditionally white, The 2012 revival of Streetcar Named Desire immediately comes to mind. Ensembles being diverse and works of relevancy telling the stories that are reflective of my experiences – like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights are equally important I agree. But what I know as a woman of color who has been invisible in parts of society, across different moments of my entire life is that tearing down someone elses truth does not elevate my own. It doesn’t open one’s mind to a different experience, it only entrenches that which we’d most like to see change.

    Lin-Manuel Miranda said upon the closing of In the Heights that one of the things that most excited him was the idea of a young white mid-westerner playing Usnavi in a High School production someday waving a Puerto Rican flag. He understands that what connects us is our humanity. The idea that when we connect on that level the diversity of experience that comes from being female, black, Asian, Latino, gay, straight, wealthy, poor, etc. will be seen and heard. Which leads us to Hamilton and its much talked about casting. What Lin has said over and over is what connected him to Chernow’s work was that it is an immigrant story – not a white man’s story, not a founding father’s story – an immigrant story. That was the seed. And having seen the evolution of this show from it’s original mounting at the Public to seeing the Broadway production a couple of weeks ago, that is the shinning point of what he’s created. He’s tapped into something that transcends because he fundamentally understood that the founding of our country is in fact OUR story. The cadence of “Who lives who dies who tells your story” resonates for a variety of reasons in Hamilton. Yes, the casting takes visual ownership of the fact that the creation of the country belongs to all of us. It is a reflection that the societal challenges and divides we face as a nation today aren’t dramatically different than the ones that we faced as a nation being born. The magic of Hamilton is its authenticity. A trait shared by the writing in Dear Evan Hansen, a show that needs work, much like Hamilton did at the Public, but whose foundation is solid.

    Discussion of changing the paradigm does need to come in action at all levels. Creating new works that share stories and experiences from all facets of life young, old, happy, sad, and the list goes on is vital to art and our evolving view of the world we inhabit. It requires children in school being exposed to an expanse of art, ideas, history and culture. It requires bravery to mount work that is authentic to the voice of the author. Jennie Urman (showrunner for Jane the Virgin) has been asked countless times how she conceived and writes for a show about 3 generations of Latin women. Her answer: that she wrote human stories that happen to be told through the lens of a Latina’s experience. Yes, they have diverse voices in the writers room too and yes they take tips from the actors who are Puerto Rican to bring nuance. That’s part of the creative process and evolution of something that is great. An evolution that Hamilton has taken. One that Dear Evan Hansen has also just begun. But if you don’t begin from the idea of writing a human story, you will never fully connect to a broader audience to gain understanding. Billy Porter is famous for saying you change hearts when you change your mind. Wanting diversity and better representation of who we are as a people is a challenge across all facets of society, theater being just one of those places. In my opinion, calling out the whiteness of something minimizes both the work that Pasek and Paul have created and it undermines the work that Lin-Manuel Miranda has created. Authentic creative expression needs to be nurtured and have the ability to thrive across all lines be they race, gender or class.

    1. I’m with you here. The more I think about this issue, the clearer it becomes that the writers are the least to blame in any of this, it’s the limited vision of those who choose repertory and casts.

      If I read 100 plays blind, of which half are written by women, but discover my top 10 are all written by men, I would be obliged to ask myself if my tastes weren’t somehow tilted in ways I’m not aware of. Variations of that question must be asked if there are no nonwhite characters, or no white characters, or if they’re all urban stories, or all rural stories, all straight, all gay…or really *any* bias that I’m not consciously aware of.

      That doesn’t mean there is, only that the question must be faced honestly.

      1. I appreciate this nuanced point. Being conscious of what drives creative decisions is very different from blind ignorance. Considering bias when producing a work is important when you are crafting a production, but I would argue even moreso when you are designing a season. It’s why the authors piece struck me as a sucker punch. Dear Evan Hansen was an add on to their schedule – thus why it is being mounted in the doldrums of summer, as opposed to a more vibrant time in DC for theater. And next on their slate is Destiny of Desire a work from a Latina playwright and Latino director with Akeelah and the Bee arriving later this season. And finally an African American woman is going to play the female lead in their production of Oliver. I revisited Dear Evan Hansen with my daughter a couple of nights ago with this blog and my response in my head. There was a talk back afterwards that affirmed my initial and continued reaction to the piece. The story Pasek and Paul have created works on multiple levels because of it’s baseline touching into a human experience that is universal. The whiteness of the cast works within the story because there is a clear undercurrent of the way class plays into decision making and frankly diverse casting would have changed the dynamic and motivations of the story and its characters which in my opinion would potentially compromise the vision of this creative team. I am humbled by the productions of both Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton. Both have stories to tell that are worth hearing. Making space and creating avenues for a multitude of voices is vitally important in the theater. I think the above decry by Brett Ryback misses because he minimizes the work of both shows to do so.

    2. Hi! I wanted to thank you for writing such a thought out response to the post. I appreciate your comments, and as a writer of new musical theatre I share and support your enthusiasm for new works that are not based on pre-existing source material. It’s something I hope to continue seeing in the medium.

      You are correct – I haven’t yet seen Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen, and so I cannot discuss with you the content of their stories. I understand the synopsis of Evan Hansen, however, and from articles and comments I think I can digest the general themes they are communicating. Themes that are not necessarily new to musical theatre, though perhaps very poignant nonetheless.

      While I agree with your point that truth and authenticity is paramount for any story to be told well, I disagree with your point (and Eric’s below) that the writers are somehow exempt from this responsibility. My question still stands: if all the characters in your contemporary show are white…what world are they living in? How is that true and authentic?

      You argue that Evan Hansen transcends race, and yet you also say that class (and whiteness) play an integral part of the story, such that removing it would “change the dynamic and motivations of the story and its characters” and would “potentially compromise the vision of this creative team.”

      Without seeing the show I can only surmise you mean that the characters maybe struggle with their whiteness and their class situation amidst the tragedy and the following actions that ensue? But even if that is the case, I still have to wonder: isn’t that just white people writing shows about white people for white people?

      I understand your point that universal truths about the human condition transcend boundaries. I can be moved by an August Wilson play that tells the story of a situation that I have never been in. But when it is used to defend white centric theatre, I find the argument flawed. That situation leaves little room for the form to grow either in scope of story telling or audience. When all our human truths are told mostly in the form of “white male experience,” isn’t that a limitation to the medium? And whether the truth is being told or not, we always have to ask ourselves from an artistic standpoint – who are we even talking to anymore?

      Finally, I just wanted to share some articles about diversity in casting that I thought were pertinent to my point about the responsibility of the writers. Both of them are from the Hollywood Reporter (which did an article about Lin-Manuel this past issue that was very interesting.)

      The first article was written by Tony Goldwyn who plays the President on ABC’s Scandal. Here’s the link: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/scandals-tony-goldwyn-tv-film-797866

      In discussing the challenges of adding diversity into programming and coming up against resistance from TV networks and producers (theatre translation: artistic directors, producers, theatre companies) he says: “It’s on us. The artists as innovators.Corporations are designed not only to make money but to minimize risk. Artists are just the opposite. We are predisposed to try new things, to break new ground, to change the game.”

      The second article was an insert in the Lin-Manuel article and was written by Jen Euston, a casting director for Orange is the New Black, among other shows. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/hamiltons-lin-manuel-miranda-finding-814657

      In discussing the situation a casting director like her finds herself in she says: “As casting directors, we’re given a script where the world is laid out — usually a male-dominated, homogeneous, Caucasian one, exactly what you’re used to seeing on your TV. We make suggestions — to change the race or gender of certain characters and bring in an array of choices — and hope that our voices are heard.”

      She closes her article with a fantastic point. “Casting directors need brave execs, writers and directors to give us characters we can embody with all the beautiful underrepresented talent out there, waiting to be revealed. Just because the majority of creators aren’t women, minorities or members of the LGBT community doesn’t mean they can’t tell those stories well, successfully and loudly.”

      Thanks again for your comments. I appreciate your contribution to the ongoing conversation!

      1. Thank you for your response, I thought it warranted some clarification on my part, particularly because I don’t take issue with the central premise of the need for diverse voices in theater, especially musical theater. I took issue with your using “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Hamilton” as the point and counterpoint to the argument.

        You Wrote: I disagree with your point (and Eric’s below) that the writers are somehow exempt from this responsibility. My question still stands: if all the characters in your contemporary show are white…what world are they living in? How is that true and authentic?

        I never said writers were exempt from responsibility of bringing stories that are representative of the world we live in today. I just merely stated that as someone who has sat in both of these shows (twice) and as a person has fully experienced what it is to be invisiblized across many facets of society tearing down someones truth (in this example Pasek and Pauls story) to lift up or reflect a contemporary envisioning of a community isn’t necessary to solve the underlying problem of the lack of diversity within musical theater.

        As to your question about what world are they living in and how is it true or authentic? I would tell you very much so. There are affluent suburbs and communities across this country that are white washed and that don’t look very different from the community I grew up in nearly 30 years ago where I was the token Latina in a classroom and can count on less than one hand the number of African American students in my school. The same can be said for communities surrounding the Washington, DC area where I live today. So is it more common to have integrated communities in the suburbs, sure. I would argue however that from what I have seen and experienced as a parent and a professional working in all facets of education that ‘token diversity’ is alive and well. From where I sit a story can lack a diverse community and still be true and authentic. Because if a show that focused in on a story that only presented a cast of African Americans or Latinas it would not be questioned for it’s lack of diversity why should we question one that is all white or all Asian or all gay characters? Needing diverse storytelling doesn’t mean the absence of homogenous ones. The fact is, there is no expectation for your theory to work in reverse. No one would question a fully minority cast telling a story about about the South Bronx not having white people in it. But white people live in the South Bronx. Yes, there are more integrated communities and experiences in contemporary society. Those are valid stories that should and need to be told. That need doesn’t dismiss the reality that experiences, and stories occur in the absence of them. Had “Dear Evan Hansen” clearly taken place in an urban setting I would perhaps see your point, but it doesn’t.

        You Wrote: You argue that Evan Hansen transcends race, and yet you also say that class (and whiteness) play an integral part of the story, such that removing it would “change the dynamic and motivations of the story and its characters” and would “potentially compromise the vision of this creative team.” Without seeing the show I can only surmise you mean that the characters maybe struggle with their whiteness and their class situation amidst the tragedy and the following actions that ensue? But even if that is the case, I still have to wonder: isn’t that just white people writing shows about white people for white people?

        In a word, no. The issue of class isn’t spelled out so much as it is an instigator of some of the choices the central character makes and the reactions to others within the show. The affluent family vs. working class and how those realities play into our choices as parents is a thread of the overarching story. It’s not a pronounced part of the show, but a nuance that factors into motivations. As for my statement about the change in dynamic, it is more complicated than “white people writing shows about and for white people”. And it is trite to infer that I am defending the show’s human experience to as an excuse “to defend white centric theater”. When you add the dynamic of race to a situation in innately changes a story, because it adds a layer regarding privilege, access and experience. It’s not as simple as saying – well, Connor could have been black or the parents could have been an interacial couple. For this story those changes have real implications around identity in a coming of age story and how one is perceieved and seen. Social aniexty is vastly different than social isolation driven from fear based on race. That is what I mean when I say it inherently changes the dynamic. I am not saying that isn’t a worthy story to tell, I am merely saying that isn’t the story being told here.

        Again, I don’t disagree with you regarding the responsibility and need for diverse voices in art from the writers room to the casting room to the executive suites of producers. I simply think you chose the wrong two shows to make your point.

  43. This is ridiculous. The theatre industry is known to be an incredibly accepting group of people, and I’ve always found that to be true. There are many actors of color taking over “traditionally white” roles, as well as revivals and new works featuring actors of any and all races. It’s incredibly cynical to believe that Broadway would cast en entirely white production with any negative motives. Theatre is already a minority in itself, and if its employees, patrons, lovers, and any supporters in general turn against it then it’s going to be wiped away.

    It is incredibly insensitive to persecute artists for writing the material that they want to write. If you want to see something written, make it happen. That’s what this industry is about. It baffles me that someone can call themselves a “theatre person” would persecute new artists for writing what they want to write. And often, these new writers have to use casts based on who they know. There are so many things that go into writing a new show, and it is disgusting that anyone would write a slanderous article such as this to diminish or guilt the work of new artists.

    NOT TO MENTION. BROADWAY IS THE MOST ETHNICALLY DIVERSE IT HAS LITERALLY EVER BEEN. Change doesn’t happen over night, but Broadway is certainly on track of making incredibly important changes, such as the ones that you are persecuting innocent artists to get done.

  44. This is ridiculous. The theatre industry is known to be an incredibly accepting group of people, and I’ve always found that to be true. There are many actors of color taking over “traditionally white” roles, as well as revivals and new works featuring actors of any and all races. It’s incredibly cynical to believe that Broadway would cast en entirely white production with any negative motives. Theatre is already a minority in itself, and if its employees, patrons, lovers, and any supporters in general turn against it then it’s going to be wiped away.

    It is incredibly insensitive to persecute artists for writing the material that they want to write. If you want to see something written, make it happen. That’s what this industry is about. It baffles me that someone can call themselves a “theatre person” would persecute new artists for writing what they want to write. And often, these new writers have to use casts based on who they know. There are so many things that go into writing a new show, and it is disgusting that anyone would write a slanderous article such as this to diminish or guilt the work of new artists.

    NOT TO MENTION. BROADWAY IS THE MOST ETHNICALLY DIVERSE IT HAS LITERALLY EVER BEEN. Change doesn’t happen over night, but Broadway is certainly on track of making incredibly important changes, such as the ones that you are persecuting innocent artists to get done.

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