At Change.org, white theater leaders have considered the events in St. Louis and elsewhere and have published a petition to end the use of casting white actors to play characters of color, like Tuptin in The King and I and Maria in West Side Story. Such leaders as Chad Bauman, Managing Director, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Michael Barker, Managing Director, Westport Country Playhouse and Kevin Moore Managing Director, Actors Theatre of Louisville have signed it.
The petition reads:
In light of recent casting controversies at Wisconsin’s American Players Theatre and St. Louis’s Municipal Opera Theater (The Muny) involving white actors cast in roles portraying people of color, we urge theater leaders across the country to reexamine their casting practices and policies in an attempt to avoid similar situations in the future. It is important to acknowledge that this practice has and continues to be widespread and pervasive. We can make this an issue of the past together.
As Theatre Communications Group has articulated, “theatre has always been a place for transformation, however we must acknowledge the past oppressions and ongoing inequities facing people of color, including an uneven playing field where the vast majority of opportunities, onstage and off, are held by whites.” This statement is supported by a landmark 2017 study by Actors Equity Association which noted that there are stark and pervasive barriers to employment in our industry for people of color across all Equity contracts. From 2013 to 2015, 71% of principal contracts went to Caucasians, 7% to African Americans and barely 2% to Asian Americans.
We must end the harmful practice of white actors playing characters of color while using every opportunity at our disposal to level the playing field. As agents of powerful change in our communities, we pledge to do our best to serve as examples and lead our communities toward a more equitable future.