Casting method disregards race

Nancy Ngo

When the University Theatre’s play “The Good Person of Setzuan,” opens tonight at Rarig Center, the audience will see an example of colorblind casting.
Colorblind casting is a way of choosing actors for a play regardless of race or color. When University Theatre directors cast characters for plays, many say they go by an unwritten rule to use a colorblind casting method — although there is no policy requiring casting directors to do so.
“It’s just always done. It’s never been a problem that we’ve had to write it down,” said Sherry Wagner, managing director of the theater department.
Many directors said the exception is when race is a pivotal aspect of the plot. But determining whether race is an important element of a story line is difficult to decipher. The University Theatre’s current endeavor contains just such a storyline.
Written by German playwright Bertolt Brecht, the play is about three gods who search the world for a good person after they are told that there are none left in the world. They encounter Sheng Te in Setzuan, a fictional province in China. The play explores whether morality, even in kind people, can be corrupted by society.
Lawrence Ballard, a University junior majoring in theater, plays the role of one of the gods. When he first read the script, he said he pictured Asian characters.
Ballard said that although casting Asian characters in the play would make the production more realistic, the message remains believable without Asian actors. He said the play is a comment about society and not race. “Either way, the story plot wouldn’t change.”
Two Asian actors tried out for roles in the production, said Melanie Martin, the director of the piece. One was cast in a minor part but had to withdraw for reasons unrelated to the play.
Nancy Kim, a theater major who graduated fall quarter, also tried out for the play and did not get a part. “In the case of ‘The Good Person of Setzuan,’ if it was performed as the author intended, there were some talented Asian actors that could have been used for principal characters,” Kim said.
Her initial reaction to the script was that Asian actors should play the principal characters.
“Because of the names and the place used, there clearly are supposed to be Asian characters,” Kim said. She used an analogy, saying that the play “The Diary of Anne Frank,” would not be convincing if an Asian actor played Frank.
Martin said the purpose of colorblind casting in academic theatre is to emphasize education rather than a completely visual representation.
“The education of a certain role shouldn’t know any boundaries,” Martin said.