The Fairy Princess has had an interesting week since that Playbill article came out about people in theater to ‘follow’ on social media.
Not one, not two, but four colleagues rang or emailed to ask about diversity in casting, from all different genres of entertainment – opera, local theater, children’s theater, and television – and the International breakdown of those people happened to be Canadian and American, in case one needed to know.
Honestly, she was quite touched, because truly, she never really thinks anyone actually listens to a damn thing she writes.
She should probably do a blog just on the conversations she has had in the past week, but she wanted to take a moment and congratulate the cast and crew of HAMILTON, which just opened on Broadway, on all it’s rave reviews, and extended box office bonanza since said reviews came out.
ONE MILLION DOLLARS in tickets were sold before the Opening Night party ended, and that puts them at about $33 MILLION DAMN DOLLARS in advance ticket sales.
Rise up and take a shot, shot – Lin Manuel Miranda….you deserve it, and thanks for all you do, TFP is a fan.
Across the pond, another play is giving jolly old England a run for it’s diversity dollars – WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE produced by the Finborough Theatre, congrats on your successful opening! Tickets are apparently quite hard to come by, which is great news for London’s premiere Off West End theatre.
It is a play about the changing face of London as it heads towards a historic housing crisis – ie, no one can afford to live there because of constant gentrification – and TFP wishes she could see it in person.
Here is a link to purchase tickets if you happen to read this in London, and good on you for going! One should always try and support live theater if at all possible, and buying a ticket for this particular show, is supporting diversity on stages as well, so you will get double theater heaven bonus points!
The Cast: Ritu Arya as Asma, Gary Beadle as Roy/Policeman, Ross Hatt as Estate Agent/various roles, Paddy Navin as Mary, Matt Whitchurch as Ben, and Daniel York as Keith/Policeman 2 have all been working on this new play written by Steven Hevey and directed by John Young.
To quote HENRY V – “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...” – off you go then, have a hit on your hands, why don’t you?
All this pond jumping has had TFP looking into what else is happening in London theatrically, and whilst yes, Finborough Theater is doing it’s best to uphold the pact it has to reflect the London scene, there were other companies that, sadly, were not – and it is not a mistake that TFP uses the words of The Bard to usher in this section, read on, dear friends…read on….
TFP was reading about the Trevor Nunn directed The Wars Of The Roses piece that is being produced by The Rose Theatre Kingston. It is being adapted from Shakespeare’s plays HENRY VI, parts 1, 2, and 3 and combining them with Shakespeare’s RICHARD III – with the compilation is being done by John Barton in collaboration with Peter Hall.
Now, truthfully, The War of the Roses is one of TFP‘s favorite periods to read about in British History, and of course, it IS British History – and in case you were wondering, no, there are no BAME Actors cast in this production – because the team wanted this production to be….wait for it….’historically accurate”.
British Actors Equity, the union for Actors, has issued a response of their own, and good on them for doing so.
Here is the issue, in a cast of twenty two – which, by the way includes Joely Richardson of the very famous British Acting Family, The Redgraves, there was no room for an expanded palette that would honor the England of yesteryear but include the United Kingdom of today because…wait for it…‘history’.
TFP was wondering – as the House of York and the House of Lancaster battle onward, if that was really true, and thus, she decided to go a’wandering through the world wide interweb and find out if England was truly a Caucasian only bastion for it’s entire existence.
As she begins to write this blog, TFP honestly does not know….so let us all find out together.
Were there only ever Caucasians in England?
Here is a map of the war of the houses of York and Lancaster and their many battles
Now for those of you not familiar with The War of the Roses, (which during it’s time was known not as The War of the Roses, but as The Cousin’s War) it happened as a series of small wars within England between two ‘houses’, aka branches of the Plantagenet Family, one was named York, and one was named Lancaster.
These wars took place in the years 1455- 1487 and were finally ended when Henry Tudor ascended the throne christening himself as HENRY VII and married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of EDWARD IV. The two houses thus were united under the Tudors and that family ruled the throne of England and Wales until 1603.
Or you could just say one day the Royals all woke up and said….
The House of Lancaster had a red rose on their heraldic badge, and the House of York had a white rose – hence the name that was given to these dynastic wars later by historians. The war itself occurred over 30 years, but the significant battles were less than 20 – the worst being the Battle at Townton where estimates are as many as 50,000 men were involved with potentially 28,000 killed.
While one could look at England think that there were only Englishmen fighting – one would be wrong- there were mercenaries from other countries as well. The reason there were foreigners fighting on British soil was, of course, money. Ah, but how did the mercenaries get to England?
England was a seafaring nation. In fact, England and it’s denizens had been traveling the known and yet to be known world beginning in 1096 at least, for that was the time of the First Crusade.
You know – when the Roman Catholic Church decided it needed to conquer The Holy Land and sent soldiers over to rape and pillage the Saracens (as they were known at the time) into submission.
Today we would call them Muslims, and the territory The Middle East.
Did not work. All The Crusades did was slaughter people for no good reason, simply because the Pope decided that Jerusalem should be under the control of Rome. The Crusades led to the slaughter of everyone – Jews, Muslims, and Catholics alike – it was a terrible, terrible idea. And yet, there were 8 major Crusades and several minor ones.
What the Crusades did do, aside from slaughtering mass amounts of people, was open up The Mediterranean to travel and established trade routes. This lead to ports and cities being expanded, peoples began to travel. The Knights Templar established the first bank and lines of credit during the Crusades, which enabled people to travel their wealth with lines of credit, which led to the Knights’ rise in power, which led to their eventual slaughter on Friday the 13th, 1307.
Lest one think that only men went on The Crusades, that was not true – women went too – some fought, some accompanied family members, and some simply ‘followed the drum’, and served the various armies in various ways – washerwomen, cooks, prostitutes…and where there is potential for rape and pillage, there is potential for pregnancy.
In fact, you do not have to trust TFP, there is a book written by Natasha R. Hodgson called “Women, Crusading and the Holy Land in Historical Narrative” that tells you all about it.
So we have British people traveling to foreign countries, countries that are also port cities, port cities that have trade routes all over the known world – which included parts of the Middle East and the Far East – from 1096.
The War of the Roses started in 1455.
1455 minus 1096 equals = 359 years of potential racial diversity.
Generally the mercenaries in The War of the Roses came from France- port city – which again, potential for racial diversity.
Now, TFP is not saying that all of Britain was diverse at the time of the War of the Roses, that would not be true – she is simply pointing out that the world is never ‘as pure’ as any one person thinks it is.
Why? People travel and have sex. They travel for all sorts of reasons, and they have sex because that is – just like any other animal – what people are driven to do, repopulate. The war was not fought only by Brits – there were foreign mercenaries there as well, bringing non British DNA into the War of the Roses.
Which brings us back to the Cast and Crew of The Wars of the Roses and Trevor Nunn.
The Cast, has twenty two roles – TFP is sure that all of those Actors are talented…but no diversity amongst them…
Though the House of Lancaster and York were of course Caucasian, these stories have been around long enough that one can be more inclusive with them, particularly in the roles that are not the main family, and it would still have the potential for historical accuracy because of England’s brisk trade culture.
One could investigate, as TFP did, that there was the potential for racial diversity and that hiding your choices to not see or cast any BAME Actors in a cast of 22 individuals behind the label ‘historical accuracy‘ is not only lazy, it is detrimental to theater…sorry…forgot, British – theatre – because what you are doing, Sir Trevor Nunn ,
is drawing a demarcation between your production and the audience you desire.
What you are saying with this casting is that there is an ‘us’ and there is a ‘them’, and that this production is for the ‘real’ English people.
Though you did cast one Norwegian.
Would have understood more if you cast a Dane, but a Norwegian?
Did you also, Sir Nunn, make sure that all the roles that are to be representative of French natives…did they also go to French Actors? I mean…for example who is playing Joan of Arc? Really named Jeanne d’Arc, also known as The Maid of Orleans and considered a French hero?
Who is playing the Bastard of Orleans, a Frenchman?
No French people. First step to historical inaccuracy.
On to Richard himself, now Richard, as everyone knows, had an affliction – Shakespeare, that wonderful fellow whose words you are making a mash up of, spoke at length about Richard when Queen Margaret decides to speak of him thusly to Queen Elizabeth…
“….The day will come that thou shalt wish for me to help thee curse that poisonous bunch-backed toad”
Because of these lines among others, Richard has always been played as having a severely malformed spine. Today we know that while he did have a severe form of scoliosis, his spine was twisted, not hunched – however it did affect the way he held himself, and it would have made him appear shorter.
Does the Actor cast have a severe form of scoliosis?
Because that would seem to TFP a prime opportunity to be both historically accurate and cast a less physically abled Actor.
Furthermore, what about the inclusion of women at all in this production – historically there were of course actual women, but if you are in this muddle of ‘kinda sorta historic to Shakespeare’s time’ then should not the women all be played by men?
Which bit of historical accuracy are we involving, theatrical history or world history? How real is real?
TFP must call to the carpet this reliance on mash up history as a way of shutting out BAME performers, because this show is not historically nor theatrically cohesive….there are real and actual women playing female roles, no French actors, a Norwegian, and an actor without a twisted spine….and the audience is meant to ‘buy into’ this simply because there are Caucasian faces on the stage?
This audience is supposed to be sophisticated enough to overlook these ‘inaccuracies’ but unable to see diversity on the stage? Because it might throw off their potential enjoyment?
If one is holding forth the holy grail of historical accuracy...one MUST be accurate, Sir Nunn.
You cast three young chaps fresh from Drama school who are making their professional debuts – hard to believe they would be better than a BAME professional actor with lots of experience, but…hey – both you and your Casting Director, Ginny Schiller have worked extensively with The Royal Shakespeare Company, and TFP always has thoughts when she reads those initials on a bio….
TFP knows that is your right as a Director to say that the history of England does not include any racial diversity – but, as she has pointed out, Brits have been traveling abroad for glory, honor, and financial gain since 1096…so that is not entirely true – you could have tried a bit harder, methinks.
Or at least let people audition.
Because you see, England is changing
and being inclusive means that not only are you investing in diverse and vital talent to tell these classic tales, you are providing a chance for audience expansion for classical theater productions, something which the greater profession at large bemoans as being in the death knells.
TFP supposes what is most troubling, is that Shakespearean productions have been really investing in diversity for the last decade or so – at least here in the United States. When one goes to see a classic Shakespearean play, usually ‘in a park’ – no one blinks an eye if the casting is diverse. In fact, the productions are usually quite successful and well received.
thus it is discouraging to think that your Creative team supposed that seeing diversity on the stage would divert an audience member’s attention from the story of the play. The subtext being that you, as a Director, find diversity on stage ‘distracting‘ in Shakespearean drama – that is the underlying message in this production with this casting.
No one disagrees that the Houses of York and Lancaster were Caucasian – but not every part in this production is that of landed gentry or noble – and yet you would rather choose three chaps fresh out of drama school, have women play women, engage a Norwegian actor, and non French people and then cite ‘historical accuracy’ rather than see any BAME Actors for these roles….
Uneasiness is not just for the head that wears a crown in this instance….fie on you, Sir Trevor, TFP says FIE!
Fifty smacks of the wand to you and your Creative Team, you chose to be exclusive in casting, and ‘historically’ your casting is shaky, no matter how much you cite accuracy to justify it. On the plus side, we of the theater vote with our ticket purchase, do we not?
As for those at The Rose Theatre Kingston?
They can Kiss My Fan, Tan Fannie!