• Nick Pompella

    Wait though, the issue here should not be this off-base supposition that the University is racist for casting White people as Indians: It’s the fact that someone had to come to a conclusion as to how to make the production work at a campus with practically zero Asian students. If you want to discuss the fact that the school didn’t have the licensing to produce the play in the first place, that’s another issue entirely. Why have we all decided to turn it into another situation involving identity politics? Even if you are going to discuss licensing over the play… I hate to admit it, but I’m pretty confident that many off-Broadway productions all the way down to the high-school level do productions without ever putting in the effort to get the playwright’s permission. That aspect is such a commonality that it’s practically a non-issue… So what this really boils down to is that Clarion wanted to perform a play, they had literally zero Asian students, and they did their absolute best to make due… Where in that equation are they at fault?

  • Hobo Tron

    Once upon a time, I and another young black woman auditioned to play Joanne in a small production of Rent. We were, literally, the only two not white people who auditioned for the show. She was way better than me, and I wasn’t hugely surprised to not get cast, but she wasn’t cast either. Not even in the chorus. The entire cast of this play that takes place in New York City and has three black and two Hispanic characters was white because there was no reason for any of these characters not to be white. I feel like a lot of you don’t understand how frustrating that is. It’s not racist to have an all white Rent cast, but it is racist to expect that a black actor be cast as MLK Jr. or that a play about Indian people be cast with Indian people? Is that what you all really think?

  • AtlanticMM

    Suh is a racist, plain and simple. A play done by a small university does not effect the integrity of his work at all, this was not a huge public production. He was even offered a chance by the university to state why he though the casting was wrong, he cowardly declined. He hurt a lot of kids passionate about their acting by his egotistical racism. Shame on him.

  • RoBow

    Does this mean that I have to not like Alec Guinness and Espera DeCorti now? I wonder what they would say about this issue, cuz I sure don’t have an answer.

  • Noodle94

    “Clarion University did provide Suh with a $500 royalty check, but that does not excuse its failure to procure a signed contract (which is illegal when mounting a production) or from failing to get Suh’s permission for changing the race of the
    characters in Jesus in India.”–When Suh’s agent cashed the check, the contract as it existed at that time becomes in force. As Suh had not explicitly and in writing attached a rider to the contract stipulating casting, the existing contract was the contract of record. If Suh’s agent hadn’t cashed the check before Suh saw or signed the contract, Clarion’s rights would have been moot.

    As for Suh’s insisting on race requirements for his play, of course white people citing “reverse racism” is disingenuous. A white MLK is ludicrous, just as a black LBJ in “All the Way” would be (it blunts the arguments about race that both plays wish to make). However, some of the questions about Suh’s “qualifications” to write a play about India (when he himself is Korean) become fair game if Suh is claiming rights of the imagination that he is unwilling to grant to others.

  • Joel Snyder

    To my knowledge, William Gibson never addressed the issue of casting when he wrote “The Miracle Worker.” Nonetheless, when was the last time a blind and deaf actress (and yes, they exist–visit http://nalagaat.org.il/en/) was cast as “Helen Keller”?

    • David

      That is a fantastic example of reaching out to under represented minority groups to provide opportunities. Have you heard of the theatre company Deaf West? They have a production on Broadway right now with a reimagining of Spring Awakening that was approved by the writers of the musical. http://www.deafwest.org/

      (also, the link you provided doesn’t work for me)

      • Joel Snyder

        Deaf West has done great work for years–as has the National Theatre of the Deaf. But, of course, wouldn’t be wonderful if one day the casting of people with disabilities by “regular” companies was unexceptional? As for Nalagaat’s web site, try eliminating that errant parenthesis at the end of the URL.

        The larger question, however, is: if an actor who uses a wheelchair can play a character that was not written as using a wheelchair, and, as with non-traditional casting, an actor who is black can play a character traditionally considered to be white, can an actor who is white play a character traditionally considered to be black?

        Not to mention David Merrick’s all-black 1975 revival of “Hello Dolly” … oh, I mentioned it!

        • David

          First and foremost, always present the idea for casting to the playwright or the licensing company that holds the rights to the original work.
          Second, my view as I have come to understand is, if you have the permission to cast alternatively, then you may do so.
          If the playwright does not find the change in casting choice to be harmful to the story then that’s awesome.
          I’m not sure how else to say it:
          1. Get permission
          2. have the discussion with the playwright
          3. be open about it with the licensing company.
          4. DO NOT assume that it doesn’t matter. That’s exactly where things go wrong.

          On the other hand:
          If the play is available in the public domain, then please by all means 100% open the opportunities for minorities and underrepresented groups to be seen and heard on stage.

          • Joel Snyder

            Generally, I agree with Doug Wright’s sentiments. Although if we are to parse the language Mr. Wright cites — “no changes to the play, including text, title and stage directions, are permitted without the approval of the author” — the word “changes” implies that the author has stipulated certain stage directions/casting. If not, my interpretation is that the director is entitled to exercise his/her creative license and cast according to his/her vision for the play.

          • David

            Totally, The director should feel free to be creative. If the director feels she or he does not need to consult the playwright who’s work she or he is producing (and in a way a collaboration with the playwright despite not being in the room) then aren’t you closing off the potential for creative feedback and guidance that you might otherwise not have seen? Despite having some new or different interpretation to make the production unique?

            And on the flip side, still keeping the option to do whatever one so pleases with works in the public domain.

            I think if a director wants to feel 100% in creative control of the work they are doing then either write a new play OR choose a play that is in the public domain. Otherwise, consult your peers who have created the work for you to produce and direct.

          • AtlanticMM

            And vice versa, if the playright has specific demands, make them known up front. And when there is confusion like this, don’t be as asshole and screw kids of of something they practiced hard for. He may have been legally correct but he was a moral ass.

          • David

            The four suggestions I listed above will do just fine.
            Practicing hard doesn’t mean you’ve earned the right to do something incorrectly. Being called out/stopped for doing something incorrectly doesn’t make you a victim. It’s an opportunity to reflect and learn about something bigger than yourself.

          • So the playwright should suck it up because the administrators dropped the ball? It’s terrible that the students worked hard on something only to have it taken away at the last minute – I can understand how awful that feels.

            But the correct object for outrage and frustration is the producer responsible for getting the contract. S/he failed to do his/her job, and the students should be pissed at him/her. If the precedent is set that once rehearsals have begun, the playwright has to let the production go forward regardless of whether a contract has been signed, it simply incentivizes people to start work sans contract. Not the right way to do business.

        • David
  • Vinaigrette Girl

    There *is* an inherent conflict between interpretations of a text which includes a dynamic posited on skin colour and the connotations they bear in a particular context. (For example, here in the UK a production of ‘Othello’ has a black Iago, and that changes quite a lot about the play – though not all the changes are attributable only to this; and the recent international versions of Shakespeare’s plays at Stratford make this discussion very interesting and challenging.)

    It appears here that when US playwrights require a particular colour casting palette then there are cogent reasons why this should be respected. Perhaps in another 50 years these requirements in these texts will relax, through evolution of the context in which they are enacted, but for the time being, *if* people want to present the plays they really ought to cast them the way they’ve been written, even though casting the other way around is widely accepted now, or do a different play. (Outside the US, I would wonder, rather, because the entire question may be construed differently in a different context: would it be possible to cast these plays in, say, Kenya or Ethiopia? If so, how?)

    • David

      The Shakespeare example keeps coming up. It’s a good one. It’s in the public domain. Do what you want with it…that’s the understanding. If you’re opening up opportunities to minorities and underrepresented groups for roles that were previously reserved for white actors only then that’s very cool.

      Outside of the US or any other region where white is the casting default, it seems like it should stand the same way.

      However, in Kenya or Ethiopia? I would love to know more about the kind of theatre community in those parts of the world. Is it thriving? Is it radical? Is it common? Are they producing public domain works and exploring what the stories mean to them? Or are they choosing contemporary plays written by playwrights who are still living? If so, I bet many playwrights would be thrilled to get involved in those productions to see what could be learned from the experiences of people of color on the other side of earth.

      Get the playwrights involved in the choices you make!!

  • craigcw

    Suh’s primary reason for halting the performance is racist. His backup was the reality of the licensing situation. I bet if Clarion hadn’t cast white actors in the roles, the licensing situation could have been sorted out. He and the theater community can hide behind the licensing, but the situation is simply further proof that it is acceptable to discriminate against someone as long as they are white.

    • David

      read

    • David

      In order for the minority to be heard, The majority must listen.

    • Pepper Wingate

      Change copyright laws! Too often the copyright exists for far too long and is not held by the author but by a faceless corporation.

    • davidbloom

      Oh boo-friggin’-hoo.
      I’m a white actor. I’ve worked in the business for over 40 years. There’s no question that opportunities for white men are far greater than they are for performers of other ethnicities. It’s not discrimination for a playwright to want a part written for a south asian actor to not be played by a white actor.
      There are lots of roles I can’t play, not matter how “good” an actor I am. Unless the director has a brilliant reason for casting me as a 12-year-old girl, it’s more appropriate for a young female to play such a part.
      The same thing applies here. If someone has a brilliant reason for changing the race of a character, they can approach the playwright with it. If the playwright is open to the experiment, great. If not, it’s not unreasonable to respect their wishes.

      There is absolutely nothing “racist” about it. Stop whining.

  • AcePPO

    As a playwright & director of academic theater I disagree completely. Should Jim in HUCK FINN be cast with a white actor? Good Lord, no. But if the play in question isn’t dealing with race and/or ethnicity as a thematic (and to be fair I’m not familiar enough with Mr. Suh’s play to make that full assessment) then color blind casting can and should absolutely go both ways, and I do not fault the school one iota for casting out of its available pool of actors.

    • smalltragedy

      But since you don’t know the play in question, you probably shouldn’t assume that the school is in the right.

    • David

      Consider a statement from your peers.

    • Hobo Tron

      I feel like you don’t understand that colorblind casting absolutely does not go both ways. If a character is not thematically required to be a certain race, the character is commonly cast with a white actor. This happens in academic theatre and in professional theatre. And sometimes it happens even when the character is thematically required to be non-white, I have seen all white versions of South Pacific and West Side Story. If you don’t have the diversity to do a show, don’t do the show.

  • FriendlySkeptic

    Really glad to read this article. White guy here and I’m appalled at the number of white people crying, “Racism!” about this. “White tears” indeed (my new favorite term). It’s one thing to not understand how production rights work. I can see how those people are sad and frustrated for the students who were betrayed by the idiocy of the involved faculty & administrators at Clarion. It’s quite another thing, though, to call a person racist because he has reasonable requirements for the art that he created and owns the rights to. It’s clear that he was misled through commission and omission and was put in a no-win situation.

    • wabbott

      Only a sick sadist would adopt a term like “White tears” (or “Black tears” or “___ tears”) as their “new favorite term”. What kind of person glories in the suffering of others?

      • FriendlySkeptic

        And only a moron doesn’t understand how irony and satire work. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess you’re one of those white dudes crying your white tears of rage and impotence about how hard it is to be in the majority with all the power.

        • Mos313

          Good god you’re an angry little snowflake. There is no more racially integrated a society than the West. Africa, Asia, the Middle East, all about as racist as there is.

          I’m guessing you’re still in college if you’re falling back on the sad overplayed trope of whites somehow posessing magical rights. By your standards, no black person should be allowed to speak English and no Pakistani should be offered Western medicine because those are cultural appropriations.

          The reason people don’t like special little snowflakes like yourself is that you claim opression from the most priveleged position in the world. Hypocrisy and stupidity are common bedfellows.

          • FriendlySkeptic

            Truly, you have a dizzying intellect. Let’s set aside your ad hominem attacks for a moment. I would have thought it clear from my 1st post but let me be specific: I’m not claiming that white people are oppressed. Just the opposite. I’m claiming that some white people, none of whom are actually oppressed and have no idea what actual oppression is, whine and cry white tears because they think they are being oppressed. As you wrote, it’s “claiming oppression from the most privileged position in the world.”

            That said, I suspect that you’re actually not in agreement with me and are yourself a white brah who thinks he’s oppressed. I’d love to be wrong but there are telling clues: bragging about how the West is best and those other parts of the world (you know, the ones with all the non-white people) are way more racist, weird and non-sensical declarations about cultural appropriations, and an incredibly hostile tone that would make a pit bull suggest that you dial it back a bit.

          • Nick Pompella

            Where are the “White Tears” in this situation? I just posted a few minutes ago about how I’m very confused as to how this is even an issue in the first place. I honestly see no “Tears” whatsoever coming from Clarion, or frankly from other people. That’s really blowing the issue out of proportion, considering that this whole thing really came down to a Clarion going, “We want to do this play! But… we have no Indian or Asian students in the drama department… Well, we can still do our best and put on a good show!”
            The playwright then sees this and goes “This is an injustice and it’s just another example of whitewashing racism.” How is that the case, though? How does one cast Asians in a place where there are no Asians?

    • AtlanticMM

      Why are they reasonable? If this was a big deal to him, he should have stated this right away, not at the end. He also had a choice to allow it to go on and come explain his views on casting. He took the cowards way out. No respect for this douche bag at all.

      • miamifella

        But he did! The director claims that she “forgot” to tell the playwright about the casting after the auditions as she had agreed.

  • wabbott

    “…changing the race of the characters in Jesus in India.” What the &$@# are they talking about? “Asian” is not a race. “Indian” is not a race. Has anyone seen the diversity of appearance of people from different parts of India. India is a vast place. It has no one “race”. How many times does it have to be pointed out that “race” is largely a social construct, not a biological one? Look at this picture: http://s13.postimg.org/4vej4ibl3/4478665936_de7a910f99_z.jpg. If a director cast the Indian woman on the left, the play might be shut down for “white-washing”. It would be a joke if the results of this fixation on skin tone, nose and eye shape weren’t so damn sad for our culture.

    • David

      A social construct that has limited and cut off the opportunities of people of color in the performing arts. That’s what we’re talking about. Re-read the article.

      • wabbott

        Are you at all familiar with the racial make up of the college program trying to put on the play? In what way did they “cut off the opportunities of people of color”? Look at the facts first. Then speak.

        And by the way, what is a “people of color”? Any non-albinos? Does the woman on the left in the picture above count or not. Do you get to decide who qualifies?

        • David

          Minorities at Clarion University appear to be under represented. More should be done to encourage diversity in the theatre program as well as the University as a whole.

          • David

            This article gives three ways to avoid the problem of a racially limited casting pool. Please read the article again.

          • AtlanticMM

            All assinine. There is no reason an all-black or all-white school should have to limit a literary production based upon race.

          • wabbott

            I’m all for encouraging diversity in the college. For denying opportunities to the students who happen to be already be there. Not such much. Punishing people for their pigmentation in my experience is not a pathway to encourage diversity and harmony.

        • David

          The woman sitting in the picture… from the play about MLK….with a white man playing MLK.
          What are you asking? She isn’t the problem. The white male playing MLK is the topic of discussion regarding that play. Are you missing something?

          • wabbott

            The white male playing MLK was an artistic decision by the director. He wanted to play on MLK’s words that said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”But here were are 50 years later still looking at the color of people’s skin to decide whether they are worthy to have parts in a play. Sad.

          • David

            Yep! We sure are. And if they are white people portraying anything other than white, then it is a disservice to the community. It’s not compelling to prove that white people are still white. It would have been pretty cool to see anything other than a white man play MLK. But even then, that choice of casting must be accepted by the playwright/licensing agreement holding ownership to that piece of art work.
            If that theatre group at Kent State wanted to make a point similar to the ideas the director had, then that theatre group should have written their own play about it. Instead of highjacking the themes of a completely different play.

          • David

            and I would reword your statement:”But here were are 50 years later still looking at the color of people’s skin to decide whether they are worthy to have parts in a play. Sad.”

            To say more specifically:
            Finally here were are 50 years later working to look for other colors, besides white, to represent people of color in a play. Inspiring.

          • wabbott

            I find it great to that people of all colors and ethnicity are finding creative opportunities denied them in past. In this case, however, what we have is a group people denied the opportunity to act in a play because of the color of their skin and the fact that they happen to be in a drama club where they are the only ones available to play the parts. This isn’t opening up opportunity. It’s closing it down, again, based on nothing more than the color of their skin.

          • David

            Clarion does not own the work of Lloyd Suh. The Play may not be changed unless Clarion has permission. In this case, Clarion did not have permission to change the play.
            Clarion is 100% allowed to explore the text in a classroom setting.
            Don’t loose sight of the details and the greater message all together.
            Denying Clarion the right to produce this play is to call out the denial of the importance of racial inequalities in theatre.
            Three characters in the story are Indian.
            Brown Face (Yellow Face, Black Face, Red Face) is unacceptable practice.
            This is why all of this matters.
            Ignoring these views is silencing their voices.
            Race matters.
            Hear their voices.
            Listen.
            Read.
            Explore.
            Don’t do a play you cannot do right.

          • AtlanticMM

            “Clarion did not have permission to change the play” The argument would be if it was even a change or was even a substantive change.

            One could also argue that has the actors worn brown makeup and talked with Indian accents that there was not change at all in outward appearances of the play. It’s a play, a production, and makeup and accents would be true to the message.

          • Hobo Tron

            I am literally drowning in irony right now.

        • The owner of the play gets to decide, according to US IP copyright law.

          • wabbott

            Yes, just like shop owners in the Jim Crow South got to decided who they would and wouldn’t serve. Don’t think that’s a model worth emulating. You?

          • AtlanticMM

            Does not mean one has to be a dick about it and cancel a small regional schools production at the last minute because he was not clear form the start about his.

    • southern_gent

      Here’s at least one person of South Asian descent who agrees with you that neither “Indian” nor “Asian” are races.

  • slobodan

    Time to move beyond the dull cliches.

  • Steel Man

    Mr. Suh is Korean. He has no right to write plays about India.

    • Pepper Wingate

      He can write about what ever he wants. If you want to use his property, he has the right to determine what use his property is put to. He owns the rights.
      The discussion of copyright needs to be revisited in all it’s murky details. Around the world.

      • Steel Man

        In the United States, you don’t have a right discriminate on the basis of race or religion against someone who wants to buy your property. Do you believe Mr. Suh has a right in America not to sell a house to an African American family. Of course not.

        • davidbloom

          And the prize for completely missing the point goes to “Steel Man”.

        • Pepper Wingate

          Good point! The problem is that directors of theatre and film have the right to chose ethnic actors for parts based on their race and other qualities. They advertise for specific races and sexes all the time.

  • Johann Cougar Watermelon

    I hope Mr Suh returns his $500 check.

    • Jennifer

      Check other articles. The check was generated by the director, but Suh never received it.

  • Hi_Denahnah

    THANK YOU DIEP!

  • Ron Zank

    The Hampton Years calls for three African-American actors. And is Straight White Men available for amateur production yet?

    • Good point Ron. Thank you for pointing that out about the “Hampton Years.” I wrote too fast. As for “Straight White Men,” you can request the rights here: http://www.aoiagency.com. You can also find the complete text of the play in our April 2015 issue.

      Best,
      Diep

      • Ron Zank

        Thanks!

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