Casting in the high school theatre

Casting in the high school theatre

High school musical. No, I don’t mean the hit tween Disney Channel Original Movie, I am talking about being in a musical during your high school years.

The last couple weeks I have seen multiple articles about whitewashing happening in the high school theater department I spent my younger years participating in. I’ve heard views on both sides, seen what posts on Facebook has produced. Some have been against what the students have said, commenting that their is no issue of racism present in casting.

The issue that is being talked about is, the role of Esmeralda, who is culturally known as a woman of color, was cast to a white female. Above you can read two different viewpoints of the issue at hand incorporating students, faculty and administration’s testimonies. This is not the female who was cast’s fault, this issue is not her fault. It’s the system.

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As an alumna to such theater program, I find myself with opinions that I want to voice. I am white, yes, however: being part of a minority, being plus-sized, I understand where this issue roots from. I’ll break the issue at hand as we continue this discussion. Let me reiterateI do not have the same experiences as those who face race problems, as I am white. But being judged and looked over for who you are holds similar feeling.

I’ve seen a black man portray Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” who is always portrayed as a white man. I have seen a black man portray Frank Abagnale Jr. in “Catch me if you Can,” who is, in real life, a white man. I have seen a black man portray the Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance,” who historically, is usually portrayed as a white man, as the term “king” is often associated with someone being white. Hell, the title character of the now 30 year long run of “The Phantom of the Opera” has been portrayed by a black man on Broadway and touring companies.

I’ve seen black women portray white characters in youth theatre: “Annie,” “Catch me if You Can,” “The Wizard of Oz.” One of the articles I read, if I recall correctly, mentions composer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda discussing how kids participating in high school theatre should play the characters they want to play now before they hit the real world and are placed into a “type.” Playing the type of characters kids have always wanted to play and portray should be encouraged. Miranda encourages that for his musical, “In the Heights,” if high schools choose to pursue that.

Even though one composer and creator gave a blessing of casting whomever in his show in a high school setting doesn’t mean that is a blessing to all musicals or characters who are traditionally a person of color or different ethnicity.

Putting white people in specific roles made for black people proves the point that we don’t take black people, any person of color, or ethnicity, as seriously as we need to be.

My freshmen year musical was “Aida,” with the title role portrayed by a black woman. Would people understand the concept of racism and privilege if Aida was a white woman falling in love with a white man? Or would we be seeing just another love story?

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My junior year musical was “The Wiz,” with half of the prominent principal roles, including Dorothy, being black performers. The only people called back for Dorothy were black women. Would we call a production of “The Wiz,” “The Wiz” if a white woman portrayed Dorothy, or would we call it, “The Wizard of Oz?”

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We wouldn’t cast an all-white production of: “The Color Purple,” “Fences,” “Hamilton,” “The Piano Lesson,” “Miss Saigon,” “The King and I,” or “Once on this Island,” would we? It wouldn’t be the same story if we did.

There is work made for people of color and different ethnicities for a reason, because 75% of theatrical material, straight play or musical theatre, is made for white people.

Those who caught the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards might remember Sterling K. Brown earning, as the first black man ever, to win the Golden Globe for Best Performance in a Television Series – Drama. He then said revolutionary words in a revolutionary moment:

Dan Fogelman, throughout the majority of my career, I have benefited from colorblind casting, which means, ‘you know what, hey, let’s throw a brother in this role. Right? It’s always really cool.’ But Dan Fogelman, you wrote a role for a black man that could only be played by a black man. What I appreciate so much about this is that I’m being seen for who I am and being appreciated for who I am. And it makes it that much more difficult to dismiss me, or dismiss anybody who looks like me.

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Dismissing black people, any person of color, or different ethnicity is harming. We feed into the notion that white people are on the top while everyone else is underneath. Roles made for people who are not white, whichever ethnicity or race the role calls for, should only be played by those people who are not white.

It’s not “casting the person who’s best for the role,” it’s casting the person who has the best talent. And I learned through my collegiate years that it’s not about who is the best, it’s about who’s right. Someone might not have a strong voice but they bring something to the role that a director wants and that person is going to get cast rather than the person who has a better voice or dance skills. That is revolutionary. Giving a chance on someone who might not otherwise get one is what makes live theatre thrilling.

And I get casting a show take a lot of time. I have sat ten hours straight one time as a stage manger watching audition after audition to then spending almost three out of those ten hours figuring out, with two directors and my one ASM at that moment, who would be called back. Then add another day of callbacks and preliminary casting, so maybe 16-18 hours total. But within those various hours, I don’t think it was hard to realize that we shouldn’t cast a role made for a person of color to someone who is not a person of color.

The woman who directed each show I was in was a white director but she never dismissed the importance of having people of color, various ethnicities portray characters meant for people who aren’t white. The casts of the productions I was cast in were based on who was right for the various roles.

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

People have stepped down from shows because casting has been unfair.

People haven’t auditioned for shows because they’re only seen as a stereotype based on their race and skin color.

People have called out the problem to challenge the status quo and dismissed.

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We can’t change the status quo if we don’t say something is wrong. When we are so used to something being a certain way, we’re scared of change. We sometimes don’t see or acknowledge the problem because it doesn’t affect us directly. That is a notion of privilege.

It’s been 10 years since my first show ever, a show that was produced by Ithaca City School District. If we want to change, we need to listen and not pass over the emotions, experiences and comments the students have. This is not going to change over night; we all know that and can agree upon that. But it’s going on for far to long to let it continue happening.

But what these students are doing, speaking up when so many have told them not to, will make sure that ten years from now, this doesn’t happen to another student who wants to audition for a role made for them. They won’t have to fear they won’t get the role made for them because of their skin color or ethnicity.

We can do better than this. We need to do better than this.

Eight days into 2018

Eight days into 2018

The first few days of 2018 have been absolutely insane. I turned 24, I officially moved to a new city, I saved a man from a fire, I’ve got those “new year goals” underway and I’ve witnessed the environment reach negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit. I know, Happy New Year to me!

To be quite honest, it hasn’t been all that bad. Actually, it’s been really great. I’ll give you a quick synopsis of each point above.

Turning 24

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Yeah. 24. I’ve been living on this Earth for over 24 years. I’ve seen and done a lot over these past few years alone and I’m just starting to see where my light is heading. I’m started to fully grasp the direction I should be heading in. It doesn’t mean I understand where exactly this light is heading or why I’m going this way but I feel moving in forward. 2017 made me have so many “Ah-ha” moments, I’ve had some of my largest revelations. After having those moments, I’ve looked at life in a complete different focus and point of view. “Her dreams went out the door when she turned 24,” from the hit song “1985” by Bowling for Soup is quickly proving to be quite accurate. Because the dreams I had at 23 are certainly not the dreams I have going into my 24th year. And I hope those dreams keep changing and happening.

Moving to a new city

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I’M IN BUFFALO! On Dec. 30, I packed up almost all my things from my parent’s house in Ithaca, NY, and traveled 121 miles West to Buffalo: “An All America City.” And yes, that is the sign that welcomes those on the New York State Thruway into the city. All my things are slowly and surely settling into place in my apartment. It’s spacious, tons of storage, great water pressure, (literally) seconds away from everything in town and an array of stores that can’t be found in Ithaca. I’ve been living here for almost a week and the things I miss the most are (in this order:) my dog, my family and friends, the local restaurants and Ithaca’s natural beauty. I started the job hunt and I am optimistic that the city will lead me to a job and money in the bank!

Saving a man from a fire

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Yes, I did help save a man in a fire. And yes, Wonder Woman captures how I feel looking back on that moment. During the second night of 2018 my mom and I were playing cards at our dining room table when I was about to stare aimlessly outside the window, at what I thought would be my reflection, turned out to be a fire starting on my neighbor’s porch. I yelled out, “FIRE!”, to my mom, running towards the phone to dial 9-1-1. A trembling in my chest lingered as I waited until an operator answered, my mom rushing out to her car to drive across the street (our house sits back ways from the road) to save anyone who was in the house. I ran up to the top of our driveway and just watched. The smell of debris flew through the air, the clouds of smoke filled the sky, and the illuminating light of yellow and orange colors pierced though me. A man is going to see 2018 because my mom and I saved him. An honor of a lifetime.

New Year, new goals

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I’m not one for the whole, “New Year, new me” mentality. In actuality, the “new” entails new beginnings, new adventures, new experiences. We should be continuing to change and grow as humans. That’s an inevitable part of life, change, but the change we endure shouldn’t make us into necessarily “new” people. We’re just discovering who we’re meant to be in every moment of our lives. I’m also not prone to keeping goals; I’m ambitious and capable of a lot of things and unfortunately, keeping goals is one I’m just not capable of (yet.) So that’s why, in 2018, I am going to be keeping some goals. I don’t find them out of reach or one’s I won’t be able to keep throughout the next 357 days remaining in 2018.

  • Use a planner every day/week
  • Plan a trip for 2018 and 2019
  • Save $5,500
  • Read at least 20 books
  • Experience more theatre
  • See my student loans under $30,000 (or as close to that as possible)
  • Live a healthier lifestyle
  • Blog more (I bought a domain, I should use it more.)
  • Take a photography class (and pursue photography more in general)
  • Live life with more fulfillment

Negative 20 degree Fahrenheit

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Shit was cold. It was crazy insane. Yeah, that’s all I got on the weather. Buffalo weather is really cold and changes almost as much as the weather changes in Ithaca.

So with 2018 settling in on all of us, I hope to find this year with lots of successes, failures, lessons, goals, changes and experiences. From the classic musical written by the late Jonathan Larson, “Rent:” “It’s gonna be a happy New Year.”

Journey(ing) to the past

Journey(ing) to the past

The past and future are two of the scariest places in the world. The past is unchangeable and the future is unpredictable. Every choice we make determines the next step into the future.

Over 10 years ago I moved from the little town of Salem, NH, to Ithaca, NY, when I was 13. From eighth to eleventh grade I visited Salem almost every other weekend in order see my father. When I entered my senior year I stopped going as often; I think I went once a month, if that. Once I entered college in the fall of 2012, the first time I went back was the summer of 2015. Now in 2017 I’ve been back to Salem twice in less than five months.

The first time was an impromptu visit for my family’s 4th of July party and then from Nov. 22 to 26, my family and I celebrated Thanksgiving and my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration in the 603. It was a great four days in my least favorite place in the world.

I never thought it would become a place I’d hate going to. My whole family, immediate and extended, are there and that’s what continues to bring me back but it’s not my first choice as a vacation destination.

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On a whim, I decided to drive around town to see if either schools I attended were open that Saturday of our holiday weekend. To my surprise, the middle school was.

I contemplated going in, my chest trembling as I starred at the unchanged brick facade. I popped in my headphones, took a deep breath in and made my way through the metal doors. The entire time I walked around the halls where my sixth and seventh teams were, I was listening to “Waving through a Window” from the hit-musical “Dear Evan Hansen” on repeat. I’ve loved that song since the soundtrack to the show was released but it never resonated with me until I walked around Woodbury Middle School 10 years later.

On the outside, always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?

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Even though I am a changed person, a better person than who I was at 13 years old, I retracted to the person I was, instead of the person I have become, as I walked those halls.

I saw the lockers I had in sixth and seventh grade with vivid images of where my peers stood gathered around each day, where I was pushed, shoved and ridiculed on a daily basis, the (new) parking lot where I was blamed for defending myself from a bully and later became suspended from school.

I walked through the cafeteria and sat at the exact table in front of the vending machines where a group of boys yelled and flipped me off for no reason every single day those two years, the place where I got gum thrown in my hair before first period one morning, the library where I had to work with my worst enemy to be made in my entire life, that same library where I threw a Twinkie in a boy’s face after the same group of boys made fat noises at me at the end of a school day. I remember which classrooms I was sexually harassed in and the names of the boys who did it even when I said, “No.”

I remember so distinctly standing emotionless outside the counselor’s office where I told two people I couldn’t forgive them for bullying me after a teacher gave a report about the bullying happening to me each day.

I even remember crying at my computer screen over the Myspace profile someone made of me with a picture from environmental camp in seventh grade with a blue background with little Twinkies embedded where I read everyone’s true opinions of me.

When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?

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10 years later I remember the names of all who tormented me, who made me feel like I was nothing and those who witnessed what was happening but decided to say nothing. I didn’t want to be saved, I wanted the burning hell that encompassed me on a daily basis to die. I wanted someone to listen. I needed someone to believe me.

10 years later I knew I had to go back to my roots to fully understand the growth and accomplishments I have made since moving to Ithaca and finally talk about what happened to me growing up.

Because thank God, I have changed. I got out of the town that made me feel like I was a something instead of a somebody, an easy target to the people I grew up with. I left the town, the people and the school administration that was inevitably going to make me fail. I am so incredibly happy I became a new person the minute I stepped onto Ithaca soil.

I’ve learned to slam on the brake
Before I even turn the key
Before I make the mistake
Before I lead with the worst of me.

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I developed proper social skills and made friends, I had teachers willing to help me in my classes, I wasn’t being bullied anymore, I fell absolutely in love with (musical) theatre, I graduated high school with high honors, I became a leader in college, I found my voice and I graduated college with two bachelor’s degrees. If I didn’t leave I wouldn’t have experienced all that I have and met those who built me back up from the black ashes of the people who tore me down.

I might always be the fat girl who didn’t have any friends growing up in Salem, NH. I might always have the connotation of being an immature bitch, the naive girl who had no where to sit during lunch, the girl who was shamed for trying to be someone, the girl everyone threw to the side like a piece of garbage. Maybe that will always be the image for those who knew me 10 years ago.

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But here are words I hope you read, from the woman who you can know now, 10 years later:

We’ve all changed. I am certainly not the same person I was back in the day and I hope you aren’t, too. I hope you’re well and I hope our paths cross again in our lives. I hope we can talk, catch up on our life endeavors.

Anyways, thank you. Truly. Thank you for making me realize what pure happiness feels like after knowing what complete humiliation entails. Thank you for breaking me down just to be brought back up by those who only wanted to see me succeed. Thank you for teaching me about character and good judgement for those who pass by in my life. Thank you for showing me what it means to be a friend, kindness and understanding. Thank you for showing me that, “Even if you’ve always been that barely-in-the-background kind of [girl], you still matter.

Thank you for making me the confident, takes no BS, compassionate, empathetic and badass woman I am today. Without you, I would have never gained the courage to leave, stay in Ithaca, “step out of the sun” and experience the beautiful second chance at life I was meant to live.

And yes, I forgive you. I forgive you for whatever you did, no matter how shitty it was. I tell you this in print and I would say it verbally. But please know I can’t forget what happened, I will be remember that part of my narrative vividly for as long as I live. You might not have meant it then or you might have thought it was cool because everyone else was doing it but those words and actions stick, even 10 years later.