Tuesday, April 1, 2014

jackDawe, April, 2014

Colour, comedy, sex and new work
by TJ Dawe

Does colour blind casting do any good?

Or gender blind casting? 

Actually, I don’t know if gender blind casting is even a thing. 

But years ago I saw a play in which a woman played a male role. It was a supporting role. It was supposed to be a man. And every time she was on stage, you couldn’t stop yourself from analyzing her. Does she have breasts? Is that a woman’s voice? It was a well intentioned attempt to counteract how male-centric most plays are. But it was distracting.


-The play was staged and performed traditionally. No direct address to the audience. Each actor only playing a single role. Everyone else playing their same gender. Realistic sets. Period costumes. Make-up used to age certain actors for older characters. 

-Casting a woman implied that she could play the role so convincingly that we wouldn’t notice the difference, or that we can look past someone’s gender and see the character they’re playing, and only that, in an otherwise traditional presentation. 

But she couldn’t. And we can’t. Gender is hugely relevant to how anyone is perceived. Women are freer then they were 150 years ago, but ask any woman if her gender is part of her day to day experience.  

Same with skin colour. 

We artsy whiteys like to believe we’re 'post-racial,' but we receive the benefits of being 'the standard.' Ask a brown person in the arts if their race ever comes up. Ask a yellow person. Ask a red person. 

Is there a solution? 



And sex. 

And new work. 

As right wing as the world of sports is, it’s always been more racially integrated than movies or theatre. Athletes’ accomplishments can be measured with numbers. Bigoted team owners and fans eventually knuckle under to the desire to win. 

Comedy is similar. Laughter is involuntary. Getting a laugh is like scoring a point. 

American comedy was full of minorities long before American drama ever was (and are there minorities in anything but tiny supporting roles, even now?). Jews have been accepted since vaudeville. African-Americans made in-roads in the 60s. Latinos soon followed. Now there are East Indian-American and Asian-American funny people as well. Mindy Kaling. Aziz Ansari. Ken Jeong. Margaret Cho. Russell Peters. Aasif Mandvi. 

If someone consistently makes you laugh, you love them. Regardless of their skin colour or gender. 

Comedy will continue to lead the way. 

The more interracial procreation there is (which is happening more and more)(at least in the arts)(a little at a time, anyway) the less segregated the population will be. Growing up amongst a broader spectrum of colours makes it that much likelier that a person will be interested in someone of any colour in their regular life, as well as on the stage or the screen. 

Performers of mixed parentage already feature on a few TV shows I watch. Olivia Munn on Newsroom. Chloe Bennett on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Rashida Jones on Parks and Recreation. Lucia Micarelli on Treme. This certainly wasn’t the case 30 years ago. Audiences are warming up to greater variety. Bit by bit. 

But what about on the stage? 

New Work
Big theatre is bound by traditional casting and staging. Subscribers don’t want to be challenged. They want to get what they expect. 

But theatre is mutating, and expanding. More and more theatre people are forming their own companies, and creating original work telling new stories in new ways. And telling old stories in new ways. 

This is happening in tandem with arts people have sex across racial lines. 

A greater proportion of arts children won’t be lily white. 

A greater proportion of these children will go into the arts.

A greater proportion of them will create their own work. 

Some of them will create work that analyzes the experience of being the ethnicity they are. And some will create work that analyzes their experiences waiting tables, dating, walking their dog, dealing with internet service providers, driving, buying shoes, slapping mosquitoes, and getting a squirt of lemon in the eye while making a drink. 

Sort of like how Mindy Kaling’s character on The Office was a pop culture loving American girl - if anything, a ditzy blonde. On Parks and Recreation, Aziz Ansari’s character frequently references 90s R & B and has all kinds of pop inflections in his speech. On Corner Gas, Lorne Cardinal played a cop, and being First Nations wasn’t a feature of the character at all. He was sort of latently gay. 

I doubt we’ll see a genuinely post-racial society any time soon. But we can all do our part to move things forward. 

So go out and find someone who isn’t your race - preferably someone really funny - and see if you can get them to have sex with you. Then encourage the children that result to become creators of original artistic works. 

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