Interview with TheatreJones on Responsible Casting

“The importance of responsible casting is echoed by Seth Johnson, who co-founded Flexible Grey Theatre Company in 2015 in College Station, Texas, to address the needs of marginalized artists and writers (the company moved to Dallas with Johnson, in 2017). Artistic director Johnson and company manager Olivia Grace Murphy also host a monthly podcast, in conjunction with TheaterJones, called TeaTalks, in which they have conversations on these issues (topics have included nonbinary and API artists and women directors). In its shows, the group has drawn from the local community of queer, trans and nonbinary artists and/or artists of color.

That topic becomes thorny when talking about roles for cisgender lesbians and gay men, because “gayness” is not necessarily something that can be identified by visual appearance, as opposed to people of color or, in some cases, transgender and non-binary people.

Many artists — even persons of color and LGBT directors and actors — will argue that in these cases, it comes down to acting. There’s a long history of straight women playing lesbians and straight men playing gay men — it has even won Oscars for Charlize Theron and Tom Hanks, for instance.

Johnson sees it from another standpoint.

“It goes back to the authenticity of the story you’re trying to tell,” he says. “If you’re trying to tell a gay story that is specially written that way, and you have that community auditioning for you, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t pick somebody who’s not engrained in that culture. I think casting consciously with sexual orientation in mind is important, because our stories are unique, and you might be a wonderful ally and understand the community, but you’re never going to experience what we’ve gone through.”

“I just did Newsies [at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma] and [Joseph] Pulitzer was played by a black man,” notes Lee. “Some people thought that was too much, because he was a real man; but in my opinion, this wasn’t a story about him, and it wasn’t about his life. We have to look at the context of the show.” Explaining further, Lee says, “Billie Holiday can’t be played by a white woman, that changes her whole experience. ... Anne Frank could not be black, in my opinion. Just like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., can’t be white [in works about their stories].”

“Actors think ‘I should be able to act anything,’” adds Murphy, “but they forget the idea that acting is storytelling and not everyone is equipped to tell every story.””

Read the full article HERE

Olivia Grace Murphy