Sara O’Connor (1992)

Non-traditional casting has been and will continue to be an excellent means of increasing employment for those who have been traditionally disenfranchised. Without changing the text, a play can be opened up to include actors, directors, designers, and stage managers from a diversity of cultures. As far as that goes it is fine. But if non-traditional casting is done in isolation, we run the risk of re-creating the so-called melting pot, in which individuals were encouraged to disappear into a single, dominant culture and lose all connection to their own heritages.

What we have only begun to address is how to give different cultures their fullest expressions within our European-American theaters. To do this, we must focus on repertoire and not simply on employment. We must turn to American writers writing out of the Latino, Asian, Native, and Black experience and present a lot more of that work in our seasons. In this way, we will begin to be multicultural in the true sense and not simply multiracial.

One obstacle in this effort is the assumption that audiences won’t be able to understand works based in non-European cultures. This is clearly untrue. While total comprehension may not always be possible, finding enjoyment and value is. Still, I do wonder just how far people want to move away from their own cultures, from what is most familiar to them.

What I’d like to see is theater artists and their audiences becoming more open to what is unfamiliar. I’d like to see increased curiosity and greater pleasure in what can be absorbed from other cultures. I’d like to see more people sharing the treasures of their cultures, rather than assuming that no one else will understand them. I believe that understanding and openness are possible and are beginning to happen. Perhaps it is just too early to evaluate the extent of the changes taking place.

I hope we can move away from extreme self-consciousness about difference, which I believe is limiting our art. I’m weary of the battle of the labels – Eurocentric, culturally-specific, multicultural, whatever. I think we’ve spent far too much time recently looking at the labels and not at the art itself. For me, art is bigger than that, grander, more important. I’d like to get on with it.

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