Need for diversity in the arts
Erdina Francillon | Monday, February 8, 2010
When “Ragtime” was chosen as one of PEMCo’s productions in 2007, I cringed at the thought of students picking a play with inflamed racial language and stereotypical roles during Black History Month, but remained faithful that lessons would be learned.
My concerns returned with a vengeance this year when I heard frustrations from African American students that PEMCo had decided to put on “Parade” this month. I tried to keep an open mind until I asked people what the play was about and heard, “The segregated South … a black man is on trial for murder … they use the N-word.”
A friend explained to me that the problem was as much the play choice as the need to fill a quota. “I asked if I could audition for roles written for white women,” she said. “They said they wanted to be true to the script … which means no.”
To me, “Parade” represents the insistence at Notre Dame to choose plays that portray diverse people in negative light and/or subordinate roles. I am not saying that racially sensitive plays can never be chosen. What I am saying is that I do not understand why the leaders of PEMCo are shocked at the lack of diversity in their group and surprised that African Americans are not jumping for joy to play the role of the slave, the maid, the poor folk or the murderer.
Should students be allowed to play a role not written for a person of their ethnicity?
Is type casting really necessary at the college level?
Will theatre ever be more diverse if minorities are pigeonholed into stereotypical roles?
How do we get directors on this campus to choose more ethnically diverse plays?
These concerns led to a series of discussions with the directors of PEMCo and Toby Blake of Multicultural Student Programs and Services. We organized a workshop, Casting: Breaking the Mold, to talk about these issues and encourage more underclassmen to participate in the arts. Please join us on Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. in Debartolo 101.
I have faith that the Notre Dame theatre community can do better and hopefully, after this workshop, they will.