“All art is quite useless.”
So there’s been another kerfuffle in the arts scene of late, this time surrounding the fact that the Guthrie’s upcoming season is almost entirely written/directed by white males. There’s been a lot of opinions being aggressively bandied back and forth, but it did light up the idle thought for me: how diverse has my own casting been? And, hey, I generally prefer numbers to emotions in these kinds of discussions, so I thought I’d sit down and, y’know, generate some.
These numbers are drawn by tallying up all of the performers in the ensemble shows I produced from 2003-2011. I have *not* included any of my one-man shows, as they would pretty dramatically skew the results. While I would frequently consult with other members of my creative team, all final casting decisions were mine and mine alone. So here’s the big number:
22% white male
…which looks pretty freakin’ diverse, but as is the case with many statistics, is also profoundly misleading. Let’s break that down a bit. First, by gender:
…and I’ll append a few quick thoughts here:
- My plays generally feature more female characters than male characters. However, while I’ve written many short stories with female protagonists, every single play I’ve produced features a male lead. I have a preoccupation with masculine perspective and identity.
- My intention and my hope is that the female roles I’ve written have been complex, thoughtful, and/or fun for women to play, although that question would, perhaps, be better put to the actresses that have played them. I hope this not because of a special desire to write women a certain way, but because I have this hope about all of my characters, regardless of gender.
- My plays also tend to feature women in positions of power and authority. I have heard this described as being empowerment by some, exploitation by others. I don’t pretend to know which, and I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.
- I have the sense that there are a limited number of female “types” that are socially acceptable for men to write, generally variations on either helpless victims or invincible badasses, and wandering outside those norms can lead to criticism.
- I find the notion that men are either genetically or socially incapable of writing interesting female characters to be both dubious and offensive.
- I have written many gags around both hypersexualized women and hypersexualized men, because I (and audiences) seem to find them funny.
- I identify as a feminist: I believe in the social, legal, and economic equality of women. However, the self-aggrandizing language used by many modern feminists often causes me to cringe in embarrassment.
- I absolutely believe that the steps made towards equality by women in the last century have been a majorly positive thing, both for us as individuals and us as a culture, nor do I believe that that work is complete. I also think that the redefinition of gender roles has thrown masculine identity into a legitimate crisis that has been both ill-examined and treated unfairly dismissively by many within the feminist movement.
- I have led a life dominated by powerful and intelligent women: I had a father who traveled frequently, a mother, and three older sisters. I am currently in a serious long-term relationship with a career woman whose intelligence and earning power both exceed mine by an order of magnitude. I find that to this day I still communicate better with women than I do with men, though my closest friendships have generally been male.
- I identify as heterosexual; I’m a believer in the Kinsey scale, but I seem to be pretty firmly at one end. I fantasize about women in many different contexts, and I don’t feel a great deal of guilt about this.
- I’m not convinced that this is particularly relevant, but as it seems to inevitably be brought up in these conversations, I’ve been both sexually dominant and sexually submissive, and derived pleasure from both roles.
…with more thoughts:
- I don’t believe in “colorblind” casting: ethnicity is an aspect of identity, and identity is an aspect of character, and race, in my opinion, should absolutely be a consideration in the faces chosen to put to words.
- Along these lines, I think that the white power groups who complained about casting “The fairest of gods” as a black man in the Thor movie were justified. That said, I’m also the dude who cast a black female as the Norse god of thunder.
- On those occasions when I put out an open call for auditions, the actors who turned up were overwhelmingly white, despite requests for diversity in the call.
- I have on multiple occasions cast black actors, only to have them drop when they discovered that the pay would be less than their expectations.
- The above two facts lead me to the suspicion that the smaller proportion of black actors gives them greater opportunity, but my sample size is much, much too small for that to be anything more than anecdotal. I would be genuinely interested in any numbers out there along these lines; nearly all statistics I’ve seen relate to the raw number of actors by ethnicity, rather than to the work/pay that they’re receiving. One data set in particular I’d like to see: what percentage of working black actors locally belong to Equity, as opposed to working white actors?
- It’s been some years since I was aggressively auditioning, but I have never had the sense that I was either given or turned down a role because of my race.
- I am biracial, and have written extensively on the subject of race. My shows on this subject have consistently been among my bestselling work, and my audiences have been almost entirely white.
- I am the only member of my immediate family to be born in this country: my parents and all three of my sisters are immigrants.
- Being biracial, the ethnicity of my appearance has oscillated wildly over the course of my life. For the bulk of my childhood, I appeared very Asian; after puberty, my features changed enough to make my ethnicity difficult to identify.
- I attended a number of different schools due to my anger issues, but the bulk of my time was spent in private Catholic schools, where the student body tended to be white.
- I suspect that the above two facts are why I generally identify myself as Asian-American, as opposed to Caucasian.
- I resent being told how I, as an Asian-American male, am supposed to feel about my ethnicity. Additionally, I find it rather absurd to be given this lecture by white people.
- I also find absurdity in a culture that tells me I’m supposed to find pride in my Asian roots, but shame in my white ones. If “yellow pride” is acceptable, then “white pride” must be as well.
- The politics of most Asian-American groups make me cringe.
- I also cringe when white people ask me for my opinion “as an Asian-American”, as though I were some sort of spokesperson for everyone sharing my genetic markers.
- I also cringe when those opinions are dismissed because I’m “not Asian enough.”
- I appreciate the intention behind politically correct speech, but I also can’t ignore the fact that I usually see it used as a tool to shut down discussion, rather than to open it.
Finally, some thoughts on the Guthrie situation:
- I don’t fully understand what people mean when they call the Guthrie “a leader in the community.” They deal with larger sums of money, yes, and they give some nice fat paychecks to some excellent local artists, but I don’t know that either of those has a real impact on the decisions that smaller companies make. They also have a larger attendance and are more visible to the non-theatregoing public, but in my experience that audience was not attending my shows anyway.
- The Guthrie’s focus has historically been on productions of classic European and American theatre, which is dominated by white dudes.
- Not that this has anything to do with the Guthrie’s intention, but if a white power group were to open a theatre company locally, I’d eagerly see one of their shows. DW Griffith was an asshole, but Birth of a Nation was a way better movie than Intolerance.
- Many expressed indignation at Joe Dowling’s desire to avoid “tokenism.” This seems to suggest that their worldview doesn’t allow for the possibility that his best applicants were white. I have little difficulty believing this, as I have sat in the director’s chair and cast all-white shows, because my best auditionees were white. This may point to a larger systemic problem, but my first priority is the artistic integrity of my show, not to society as a whole.
- I am very resistant to the notion of art having any kind of social obligation. My motivations for creating art are almost entirely selfish.