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Student Blog: Color-Blind Casting and Asians on Stage

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My thesis was coming up and I had to think of a topic to work on. It was soon after I discovered the term "BAME" did I realize I have found what I wanted to write about.

Student Blog: Color-Blind Casting and Asians on Stage

As early as my sophomore year in college, I began to itemize a list of possible topics for my thesis. In all honesty, I was not looking forward to the whole thesis writing bit. After learning from graduates and upperclassmen how tiring and draining the whole endeavor was just to make a lengthy paper with an equally lengthy title, I feared for the worst. However, things lightened up a bit as soon as I started to think of titles which I felt would excite me the most and therefore make my work easier. Once I started thesis writing class in my junior year, my professor said that color blind casting was the most interesting and fitting topic to work on. Shortly after getting the go signal, I began my research regime. I spent many days at the library with my laptop and piles of books I picked out. What was great about this was how passionate I felt about supporting minority groups in the theatre industry particularly the Asians.

Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to move forward with the topic as I thought I would. My thesis advisor suggested that I shifted my focus towards something COVID related. Initially I was upset because I was already so attached with non-traditional casting as my topic and I really wanted to study it further but I understood that I had some sense of responsibility to pursue a research paper that was befitting of the time. I ended up researching the impact of COVID on theatre professionals in the Philippines once the lockdown ensued. I successfully finished the study and it served as my ticket to graduation. Who knows? I may return to this paper later down the road. In the meantime, I would like to share excerpts of what I was working on then and possibly may become a personal project with the purpose to spread awareness to others. I hope this may inspire interested readers to look through new lenses into the world of casting and how it is changing the way we see and watch theatre.

In the world of theatre, color blind or non-traditional casting is a way for underrepresented minorities such as Asians to be given roles on stage. According to Rick on Theater (2009), '"Non-traditional casting" is the Actors' Equity name for its policy of encouraging producers and directors to consider women, minorities, and the handicapped for roles that don't specifically require them, but also don't specifically exclude them'.

This brings up the concept of BAME which has just recently gained its place in the vocabulary due to Broadway and West End shows like Hamilton and Miss Saigon. According to Barret, "BAME is a term long used in the UK to refer to black, Asian and minority ethnic people" (2018). Unfortunately, there are less than ten musicals to that name and even less roles that are catered to the second smallest minority in the industry: Asian. To name a few musicals that feature Asian actors would be The King and I, South Pacific, Miss Saigon and Disney's Aladdin and Hamilton. Allegiance, starring Lea Salonga, had a notable all-Asian cast but was short-lived on Broadway. Due to the changing times, gender and color-blind casting is slowly becoming more evident. However, studies have shown that the majority of those on stage are caucasian and it is only of late that the African American sect is rising in the ranks but considerably far behind which leaves minorities Asian and disabled with very low chances of being casted. This brings up the question as to whether Asians are at all well represented on stage.

The intention of this study is to address the issue of the lack of representation of Asians on the Western stages particularly that of Broadway and West End. Though the concept of BAME is a "new requisite" for casting, it appears that it will take a while before a significant improvement can be produced as plays are being developed to cater to the modern and thoroughly mixed society of today. Bringing up this issue can provide an insightful study that would debunk the generalizations or stereotypes that have hindered Asians from having their place in the world especially in the West. It is with the hopes of discovering the reasons why Asians don't have a spot on Western musicals that may provide an insightful understanding for Asian theater goers and to find possible ways around the present obstacles.

Chinese American actress Kelly Hu believes that representation can be improved through the help of those working behind the scenes from the writers to the directors. Besides that, it will take other Asian artists' support to "I think a lot of it has to do with the people who work behind the scenes, the producers, directors and writers creating these roles," the Chinese-American actress shared with the Asian Journal in a recent interview. "And also for us to get out there as the Asian community, to go out there and support [other Asian artists]. When there are Asian shows being done to actually watch and get support to show that we can make a huge difference."

Recognition for Asia and its people is in the works now with the rising demand of diversity in entertainment due to the recent successful film such as Crazy Rich Asians and years before that The Joy Luck Club, or Tony and Laurence Olivier award winning and long-time running show Miss Saigon and now the film Parasite with its cast and crew making world history in winning four major Oscars including Best Film, making it the first foreign film to receive such an award, in the 92nd Academy Awards last February 9, 2020.

It is with great hope that change can be seen as the years go by and as Asia continues to leave its mark on film and theatre. Equality for Asians has been long overdue and it is more than befitting to have a paper that aims to see how society has developed or changed its perception for the better in regards to the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and so on as society has become more accepting in terms of race. It is through the help of social media, art, and more which has made inclusivity accessible for those from the East. It is due to this that Asians may finally receive the much-awaited respect that is rightfully due to them for their talents that may hopefully shape the world of performing arts for the better.


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