Alan Muraoka – Actor/Director (2005-2006)

Talking about ethnic diversity and inclusion within the entertainment industry is always a volatile and emotional subject. Although I feel that opportunities have improved since I started in the business back in 1982, I also believe there is much more work still to be done. And although I definitely feel that I receive fewer auditions because of my Japanese American heritage, I also know that I have  been one of the fortunate ones who has been able to make a career in the entertainment field because of my ethnicity rather than despite it. As a cast member of the children’s television show “Sesame Street,” I have been lucky enough to find one of the few shows where diversity is built into the curriculum. Children’s television has always been the one niche where ethnic representation has been accepted and encouraged, and it seems that the rest of the television industry is finally starting to come to the table.  I have seen an attempt, at least on television, to try and recruit more culturally diverse talent. The major networks now have yearly non-traditional casting showcases, and I have been to many commercial and prime time series auditions in the past few years in which the characters were not ethnically specific, and yet the client was specifically looking for someone of color. And it is also encouraging to see that there are a few Asian American actors who have recurring roles on prime time series, since Asian Americans have been so poorly represented in the past.  Do I think more needs to be done? Of course. But the seeds have been planted. And we have to hope that this trend will continue.

As a member of the New York theatre community, I find that the there is a consciousness about non-traditional casting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it translates into jobs for actors of color. Caucasian actors are still being cast as the King in “The King and I,” under the guise of “non-traditional casting.” Even today, casting an Asian American actor as the King is more “non-traditional” than the casting of a white actor in the role. And while there is more ethnic diversity in the ensembles of many current Broadway shows, there is much less color blind casting in principal roles. But at least there is a consciousness and sensitivity to issues of ethnicity and casting, which I think is much improved since I began in the business. I don’t believe that Cameron Macintosh’s multi-racial casting of the current Broadway revival of “Les Miserables,” would have happened if not for his involvement in the furor over the “Miss Saigon” casting of Jonathan Pryce in the Asian role of the Engineer. Again, seeds have been planted, but there is still much to be done.

As a director, I find my situation is very similar to that of being an actor.  While  I have worked for numerous theatre companies when they have Asian-themed projects, I am not given the same consideration when non-Asian specific projects are mounted. And while I love working with Asian American theatre companies, my ultimate goal is to be working in the commercial theatre as a director. But I still struggle to get that opportunity. And although I have been working as an actor in musical theatre for 25 years, there is still doubt that I know and understand the genre, and I have to believe it is because of my ethnicity. My all-Asian American production of “Falsettoland” for the National Asian American Theatre Company was met with amazing reviews and sold-out houses, but that still didn’t translate into any other directing opportunities outside of the Asian theatre community. But the small headway that I have made is building relationships with actors who have come to know and trust me. Tony-nominated actors John Tartaglia and Stephanie D’Abruzzo saw my directing work, and we have collaborated on projects together.

Despite all of the barriers, I do have faith that more positive ethnic representation in film, television and theatre is within our reach. We just have to be ready to catch the ball and run if it is thrown to us. That is our responsibility.

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