HUNCHBACK high school production casting controversy

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The Distinctive Baritone
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Just read this BWW article, as well as the articles it links. Horrible in every way. The director made a stupid casting decision, the students turned into a frenzied mob, and then the alt-right started threatening children. What is this world coming to?

Also, here is one of the linked articles: http://www.ithacajournal.com/story/news/local/2018/01/29/new-project-planned-place-ithaca-musical-hunchback-notre-dame-cancelled-amid-outcry-diversify-castin/1074212001/

Thoughts?

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Well, here is my question.  Was the student that wanted the role actually talented enough to do it.....Was she an alto when the part is a soprano......was she horrible with the dialogue, etc. You don't cast someone JUST because it matches the ethnicity of the character in question (unless it's integral to the plot or specifically stated).  Now, if the student could do that character justice, and it was only cast the way it was because they wanted a white girl, then yes, we have a BIG problem.  

And the alt-right threats...........*shakes head violently* 

"They're eating her and then they're going to eat me. OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!" -Troll 2
Updated On: 2/8/18 at 04:36 PM
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The Distinctive Baritone
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I think the mob of angry students could be taken a lot more seriously if it wasn't led by someone who was bitter about not getting the lead. It's like taking an important social cause and making it all about you. And let's not forget about all the other kids who were cast who were really excited to do the show before it got cancelled.

That said, I looked it up, and Ithaca High School has over 1,600 students. Surely there was a POC student who could have have pulled off Esmerelda. So the director is an idiot. But he doesn't deserve to lose his job over it. Nor are the children, who also acted terribly, deserving of online threats. The whole thing is just sad.

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“It shows you that theater wasn’t made for you," said Maddi, who is African-American. "And it shows you that, if you can’t get the parts that are written for you, what parts are you going to get?”

I find this to be a very interesting comment. This person, while a person of colour, is (as far as I know) likely not of Indian-type descent (i.e., it wasn't 'written for her'HUNCHBACK high school production casting controversy. It seems to be perpetuating this interesting dynamic we have right now where there are apparently only two ethnicities: white and people of colour. White people can't play any person of colour role, but any person of colour can play any person of colour role regardless of their background and the background of the character.

Does an African American have more moral right to play an Indian character than a white person?

If there was genuinely someone who matched (or was close to) the ethnicity of the character (e.g., Indian/Paki background) and was the best fit/most talented AND THEN it STILL went to a white person, the situation would be a lot clearer and there should be very strong protests. But I'm not sure this situation is as simple.

"Rose in Gypsy was like going through therapy for me. Playing Rose helped me put a lot of emotions to bed. There was so much lacking in Rose and that's why she had to prove herself through her children. [interviewer]In ways that reminded you of your mom?[/interviewer]. Let's just say the role was very interesting for me. That one was the most interesting [I've ever played]" - Bernadette Peters (2018)
Updated On: 2/8/18 at 04:46 PM
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Finding an actress in one high school who has Esmeraldas specific authentic ethnic background might be impossible. She is French Roma which I believe is half Caucasian and half Indian. 

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And the only reason I responded with what I did, was from personal experience.  Two years ago, I directed a teen production of "13:The Musical."  During auditions, only 2 african american girls came and one was HORRIBLE - basically tone deaf and was completely wooden during the cold readings. The other looked WAY too old next to the other kids auditioning (I believe she was like 16 or 17 when the rest of the kids were 12/13) so she would have completely stood out among the cast.  When the cast list came out, the theatre I was directing for got an email from one of the parents saying that I, and the theatre, were racist for only casting white people.  It wasn't my goal to cast all white kids but should I have given one of them a role when there was another kid (who happend to be white) that deserved it more? 

So, it's not always - for a lack of a better phrase - black and white.  But, again, if there were kids of color that DESERVED to be a lead and they got pushed aside just because they wanted a white person..........TOTALLY WRONG. 

 

"They're eating her and then they're going to eat me. OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!" -Troll 2
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I find it hard to believe that in a school of 1,600 students in upstate New York, there wasn't a "non-white" girl who auditioned who could have at least done it at least decently. Casting is not a talent contest. As a high school drama teacher myself, I would have given it to the so-so POC over the really great white girl, since the former would be more "appropriate" for the role. That's how casting works.

That said, "gypsies" are typically Romanian. I have known a lot of Romanians, and they are much closer looking to being Sicilian than African-American. I always did find the casting of Ciara Renee a bit odd. But yeah, having a lily-white girl play Esmerelda is ridiculous.

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Unless I missed it, I don't think the article stated how many non-white kids auditioned.  Out of curiousity - the school may have 1,600 kids but how many actually came out for the show?  

"They're eating her and then they're going to eat me. OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!" -Troll 2
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" I would have given it to the so-so POC over the really great white girl, since the former would be more "appropriate" for the role."

Depending on the specific look of the POC, they could look as equally ridiculous/inappropriate in this role as a non-POC*. And if so, the idea that the role would go to someone who is far less talented to me seems a bit silly to me. I mean it's hard to speculate because we weren't on the 'inside' and we don't know who the talent pool was. But for example, if this role was cast as an "effie"-type it would seem equally absurd as a white person (to the point where I would feel if these were the casting options, talent should matter).

* As in many, many other casting contexts. If we have a production of Pacific Overtures and it is cast with African Americans instead of Asians it would be as equally absurd as casting it with white people. If we have a production of The Color Purple and it is cast with Asians instead of African Americans it would also seem equally absurd. The idea that we group so many different people together under the label "POC" and suggest there are "POC roles" that they are always more appropriate for than non-POC does not make any sense. 

"Rose in Gypsy was like going through therapy for me. Playing Rose helped me put a lot of emotions to bed. There was so much lacking in Rose and that's why she had to prove herself through her children. [interviewer]In ways that reminded you of your mom?[/interviewer]. Let's just say the role was very interesting for me. That one was the most interesting [I've ever played]" - Bernadette Peters (2018)
Updated On: 2/8/18 at 05:30 PM
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I can’t help but feel that is unfair to the kids that did get cast who were probably super excited to do this show to cancel it due to a director’s blunder. Like it’s not the kids fault that the director did what they did.
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A south Asian girl would have likely been the most pragmatic opinion but that depends on if there was any at the school and if they had MT talent. 

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Why was there no backlash when Lesli Margarita was cast in the same role?
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...This whole debate becomes very odd when you remember that in Victor Hugo's original novel, Esmeralda was ethnically 100% white French by birth, and had simply been kidnapped by gypsies as a baby and then raised among them..... :/

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Correct. Many in this "school" assumed the Disney cartoon was the source material. Nonetheless the most talented should have gotten the part regardless of ethnicity.

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aimeric said: "...This whole debate becomes very odd when you rememberthat in Victor Hugo's original novel, Esmeralda was ethnically 100% white French by birth, and had simply been kidnapped by gypsies as a baby and then raised among them..... :/"

Really? I didn't know that. Hmm.

Well anyway, "talent" is subjective. And either way, a "gypsy," at least as far as musical theatre is concerned, has a darker complexion than your typical Frenchie. And pretty much everyone who goes to see the musical will have seen the movie, so yes, casting someone of Latino, African American, or South Asian heritage is probably best.

Further research: according to this website, the school is 66% white, which means there are around 700 "non-white" students. How many of them auditioned is unknown.

https://www.greatschools.org/new-york/ithaca/1279-Ithaca-Senior-High-School/#Race_ethnicity

 

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This is important   It's NOT just the number of students in the school, but how many of them are part of the show....and particularly how many actually auditioned.   I dont have a 30+% POC rate (much less) and I had exactly ONE person of color audition for the musical.  ONE.  He is not "lead" material.   (But I'd also never choose to do a show that required POC leads, and I DO believe in color blind casting, however)

If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.
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Call_me_jorge said: "Why was there no backlash when Lesli Margarita was cast in the same role?"

I wondered the same thing.  Has she commented on the situation?  

 

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The moment this all went wrong goes further back then the mob, the casting, and even the show's announcement. It goes back to the choice of the show itself. 

If you have a high school with that many kids, likely a lot of them that are interested in your show being female..... why did the director pick a show with only ONE actually female leading role and NO supporting female roles beyond some ensemble parts that are basically chorus one liners?! Add to that that it's a POC female role and what the heck was this director thinking?

Rule number 1 of picking a show for a high school is working with what you got. Unless this director was 100% new to the program, they should KNOW what kind of pool of talent they will have showing up for auditions. How many girls. How many boys. How many seniors. How many juniors. How many kids have put in their time with past shows and have worked their way up to a chance at a part. Adapt the pick to what you have... and even if this ONE girl was the ONLY good female performer they have (which I HIGHLY DOUBT) this was not a good choice to make to be her star vehicle.

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To paraphrase a cinematic masterpiece:
They went full SJW. Never go full SJW...

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Updated On: 2/8/18 at 11:15 PM
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spiderdj82 said: "And the only reason I responded with what I did, was from personal experience. Two years ago, I directed a teen production of "13:The Musical." During auditions, only 2 african american girls came and one was HORRIBLE - basically tone deaf and was completely wooden during the cold readings. The otherlooked WAY too old next to the other kids auditioning (I believe she was like 16 or 17 when the rest of the kids were 12/13) so she would have completely stood out among the cast. When the cast list came out, the theatre I was directing for got an email from one of the parents saying that I, and the theatre, were racist for only casting white people. It wasn't my goal to cast all white kids but should I have given one of them a role when there was another kid (who happend to be white) that deserved it more?

So, it's not always - for a lack of a better phrase - black and white. But, again, if there were kids of color that DESERVED to be a lead and they got pushed aside just because they wanted a white person..........TOTALLY WRONG.
"

I've been there too - it sucks when you're all excited about having a diverse cast and only white folks show up to the audition call.

But at the same time... what did you do to nurture that diversity, to seek it out, to foster it? Did you just put up posters in the usual spots and call it a day? My current show calls for an Indian lead, non negotiable. That meant having to get creative - cold messaging people in local actors groups, partnering with indian student unions, getting in touch with community organizers. Yes, it's extra work. You have to go out there and make sure people know that there is a place for them in this production.

The story here states specifically how diverse the school was. What did the director do to ensure that was reflected in the show? Were they talking up and engaging perspective actors? Providing info? Giving that extra support to an actress of colour who may not have had the same training as the usual favs? 

Status quo is easy. Disrupting that takes work. 

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The Distinctive Baritone said: "I find it hard to believe that in a school of 1,600 students in upstate New York, there wasn't a "non-white" girl who auditioned who could have at least done it at least decently. Casting is not a talent contest. As a high school drama teacher myself, I would have given it to the so-so POC over the really great white girl, since the former would be more "appropriate" for the role. That's how casting works.

That said, "gypsies" are typically Romanian. I have known a lot of Romanians, and they are much closer looking to being Sicilian than African-American. I always did find the casting of Ciara Renee a bit odd. But yeah, having a lily-white girl play Esmereldais ridiculous.
"

I find the term lily-white offensive.  I find your posts offensive.  I'll stop there, but if you could just say one more time that the school has 1600 students that might be helpful (to no one).  How many students are in the theatre department and how many auditioned?  And until you know those answers you are merely speculating.  White, BTW, is a color.  And I cast the best person for the role when I direct a show.  I have always used whoever was best and their color makes not a whit of difference to me, hence in my critically lauded production of Li'l Abner in the very white Dogpatch, USA I had just about every ethnicity known.  And it was all fine because they were all very good actors who could play their respective roles.  But had I wanted to be true to Li'l Abner, it would have been an all "lily-white" cast.  You can't have it all ways from Sunday.  

 

Updated On: 2/9/18 at 11:52 PM
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aimeric said: "...This whole debate becomes very odd when you rememberthat in Victor Hugo's original novel, Esmeralda was ethnically 100% white French by birth, and had simply been kidnapped by gypsies as a baby and then raised among them"

This is exactly what i thought of when i first saw this thread. The character wasn't colored originally.

bk said "White, BTW, is a color."

No it is not, don't be ridiculous. it's 2018. people who are white are not "colored."

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White is a combination of all colors. Black is the absence of color. This is grade school stuff.