The MTA did away with tokens (and we all know the MTA is slow to do much of anything). So why won’t Broadway do the same? Ok, so I’m not talking about coins…I’m talking about the spare sprinkling of ethnicity most Broadway musicals try to pass off as ethnic diversity.
I’ve often referred to myself as a “token” or a” featured blac-tor” because for the majority of my career on stage I’ve BEEN that sprinkling of ethnicity in an otherwise overwhelmingly whitewashed ensemble. As a token, by the time you are down to a final round of callbacks, you know very well that it is between you and the other ethnic person in the room. Fact.
When did this become an acceptable casting model? Who decided that one or two is enough? In this year’s National Geographic photography issue there is a story called “The Changing Face of America” that discusses the ethnic evolution of the American people. As an ever increasing number of Americans are of mixed race, it seems out of touch to perpetuate a casting matrix that does not reflect the people and the world in which we live. Musical theatre is my preferred art form. My choice for self-expression. It is the world in which I feel most at home and yet I am left feeling grossly under-represented.
In the midst of an online discussion on the topic of the curious absence of Middle Eastern actors in Aladdin, a friend presented this as a solution for ethnic diversity on Broadway. “Well write some more ethnic shows and get them produced.” While this comment was probably well intentioned I nearly threw my sassy Macbook Air (which I just finally finished paying off) across the room.
I’m not asking for separate but equal Broadway productions. I’m asking for change. I’m asking you to see that a story doesn’t have to be about an ethnic group to warrant an ethnic performer. I am asking that casting and creatives stop taking the easy way out. To look for talent and greatness in every color, size, and shape. To create opportunities to showcase talent that deserves to be seen. To take risks. This goes beyond the issue of race. It reaches across humanity and to the heart of the matter that we all deserve to see ourselves reflected on stage.
And if I’m going to shoot for the moon, YES, I hope that more minority (not just ethnic minority) voices will be represented with productions on Broadway. For now I’m happy to start one actor at a time.