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Rsc Casting Debacle


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#1 Pharaoh's number 2

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 05:31 PM

This hasn't been mentioned, by the looks of it, on WOS, but it seems to be making big news elsewhere.

The RSC is currently under fire, accused of discrimination for casting (only) 3 Asian actors in their production of the Chinese classic, The Orphan of Zhao, dir Greg Doran, out of a cast of 17.

However, as the RSC states in several statements, the Zhao is running in rep with Boris Godunov and A Life of Galileo, sharing the same ensemble of actors.

I'm not sure what to think of this- the RSC has certainly pushed multi-cultural casting with its productions of Julius Caesar and Much Ado, but it was partly able to do so because these were stand-alone productions. Since the Zhao is sharing an ensemble cast, I understand why they've done this, though perhaps they could have cast additional Asian actors for just that production; a bit like Ian McDiarmid only appearing in A Life of Galileo.

Here are a few links which make for good extra reading, and for those of you on Facebook, do take a look at the RSC's page- lots of comments on there.

http://www.guardian....ny-asian-actors

http://www.rsc.org.u...-statement.aspx

http://madammiaow.bl...-asians-as.html



#2 armadillo

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 07:08 PM

Why couldn't Asian actors be part of an ensemble?

#3 Lynette

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 07:14 PM

Tough one this. I bet Doran really did his best to find Asian actors suitable for all three plays. As a gay man with a Jewish partner, he knows about minorities. But beware the dangerous path of only having actors who 'fit' the role. Think Sarah Bernhart. She acted Hamlet, as an older woman with one leg. Gotta love that gal. But you get my point. And she kinda proves it both ways.

#4 Pharaoh's number 2

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 07:35 PM

View Postarmadillo, on 22 October 2012 - 07:08 PM, said:

Why couldn't Asian actors be part of an ensemble?

They can, and in 3 cases are, but I think they're thinking of the other productions- all 3 directors cast the ensemble- and they don't seem to want a mainly Asian cast for those. That's why my suggestion of casting other Asian nactors independently of the main ensemble, to get around that apparent 'problem'.

People on Facebook debating this keep referring to Julius Caesar and Much Ado, and I was making the point that Zhao is in a different position.

However, 3/17 is too little I think; after all, Asian actors aren't cast that often in theatre- it's true- and this seems to be one of the big Chinese plays. I've just been flicking through some of my programmes (not just RSC ones), and there are v few, if any, Asian actors in productions I've seen recently.

As Lynette says, it is a tough one- I don't think the RSC has purposely discriminated, but it is certainly creating some waves....



#5 Orchestrator

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 09:29 PM

I haven't read much about this but the RSC's mistake seems to have been to choose a play that would benefit from, almost demand, an East-Asian-origin cast if programmed on its own as part of a three-play repertory season. Cock-up!
Ooh, that Bernadette Shaw - what a chatterbox!

#6 Honoured Guest

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 09:30 PM

This summer's Julius Caesar and Much Ado needed ethnically naturalistic casting because they were set in contemporary Africa and India. The Orphan of Zhao is set in fourth century BCE China and so I think integrated casting suits it fine.

Pharaoh's #2's unscientific study of his pile of theatre programmes supports British-Chinese actor Daniel York's point in the linked Guardian piece that east asian actors are seldom cast in general roles. This point is indisputable and I think The Orphan of Zhao has provided a good opportunity for this more general point to be made with maximum public impact.

#7 Epicoene

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 06:25 AM

View PostPharaoh, on 22 October 2012 - 07:35 PM, said:

I've just been flicking through some of my programmes (not just RSC ones), and there are v few, if any, Asian actors in productions I've seen recently.

You mean East Asian I suppose (China/Japan) - it reflects the UK population as a whole then doesn't it, would you expect them to be overrepresented in theatre compared to the general population (0.5%) ? The last time I saw an East Asian actor in a high-profile production he was roundly condemned as very poor by many here so just casting based on ethnicity doesn't work.

There have been very few Native American actors in productions I've seen recently either - particularly in the RSC's Troilus and Cressdia where they (and the Wooster Group) chose to use white actors playing comedy Red Indians instead - that was far more provocative than this latest spat but passed off with no adverse comment at all in the press - the RSC should just say the new production is "experimental" and apparently they will then get away with it.

#8 robintusin

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 06:41 AM

View PostPharaoh, on 22 October 2012 - 05:31 PM, said:

The RSC is currently under fire, accused of discrimination for casting (only) 3 Asian actors in their production of the Chinese classic, The Orphan of Zhao, dir Greg Doran, out of a cast of 17.

This is ridiculous. It's such a shame for producers of theatre these days to have to put up with such allegations. The RSC is not discriminatory as Pharoah's Number 2 rightly points out. I bet all the actors who have been cast play the roles well.

#9 Pharaoh's number 2

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 08:13 AM

View PostEpicoene, on 23 October 2012 - 06:25 AM, said:

You mean East Asian I suppose (China/Japan) - it reflects the UK population as a whole then doesn't it, would you expect them to be overrepresented in theatre compared to the general population (0.5%) ? The last time I saw an East Asian actor in a high-profile production he was roundly condemned as very poor by many here so just casting based on ethnicity doesn't work.

There have been very few Native American actors in productions I've seen recently either - particularly in the RSC's Troilus and Cressdia where they (and the Wooster Group) chose to use white actors playing comedy Red Indians instead - that was far more provocative than this latest spat but passed off with no adverse comment at all in the press - the RSC should just say the new production is "experimental" and apparently they will then get away with it.

Yes, sorry, I do mean East Asian. Currently 1.6% of the UK Population is of East Asian ethnicity. 3 out of 17 = 17.6% , so yes, this casting is statistically well above average.

But it still does seem a shame, even artistically, that this production of a great Chinese play (looking at the costume designs, it seems it will be played fairly traditionally) is not very East Asian in cast, but if they were striving for 'authenticity', I guess they should've produced it standalone. But to accuse the RSC of puposely discriminating is ridiculous.



#10 Kathryn2

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 10:18 PM

I think there is a point to be made here, that there are not that many East Asian actors cast in theatre generally - partly because there are simply less East Asian actors in the population than other ethnicities - and so when looking specifically for East Asian actors who were right for the ensemble, and could work in all 3 productions, had the right experience and fit three different roles, they struggled to find many suitable actors.

A couple of people in the Guardian comment thread mentioned being invited to audition and getting down to the last few, so clearly Doran was actively looking for East Asian actors. They mentioned struggling to get cast in roles elsewhere, and so not having the same experience as some of the other actors auditioning.

What it comes down to, really, is that we need more colour-blind casting, not less. If more East Asian actors had varied experience and were suitable to play roles across the season, then more would have been cast.

Casting entirely according to the ethnic origin of a play would mean that East Asian actors couldn't be in many more plays, since Chinese theatre is not exactly frequently produced in this country, just as the need for ethnic realism on television means that they are not cast in a great many television roles.
It's really not the RSC's fault.




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