I had an audition today for the Los Angeles version of a well known TV franchise (Clang, clang) In the room were the usual suspects, (after 20 years in the industry I know and/or recognize every girl in my category) and a slew of big, BAAADDD, authentic gangbangers. How do I know they were real? Oh, I know. I’ve performed in enough juvies and outreach programs, and done enough episodes of Americas Most Wanted. These dudes had the prison tats, including one guy with 2 blue teardrops, and the attitude. Which got me to thinking. Obviously the producers want “real” people, not “actors”. Or that’s what they think they want. They want the “Type” with a capital T.
But take me, and others like me. My “type” and what I get called in for and book, is a woman from a lower socio-economic status, with little education and usually a thick hispanic accent, maids, nannies, mothers of gangbangers. The planes of my face are that of a peasant, an “india.” The truth of me, is that I am from a comfortably middle class family, I speak perfect, unaccented english, and I am an anglophile who wants to be on Masterpiece Theatre.
I LONG ago gave up on the idea that my truest self would be seen by the camera, and I would be cast as a sci-fi geek, or a Lady of the manor, or even an upper class Latina. But I always held out hope that the Theatre would see past that “Look” that “Type.”
I was raised in the Bay Area. It was the era of free-to-be-you-and-me, we were all equal, skin didn’t matter, and honestly it didn’t to us. I was never discriminated against, It’s not a joke when I say I didn’t know I was “Hispanic” or “Latino” until I got to Hollywood. Sure, we spoke Spanish to my Abuelita who lived with us, and my family had emigrated from Colombia when I was three. But it never crossed my mind that I wasn’t white, whatever white means. I just wasn’t raised that way.
When I did children’s theatre they just slapped dark makeup on the white kids and called them Sharks, and no one blinked when I played the Scottish lass from Brigadoon, or the blonde chorine, Adelaide.
Here in the Los Angeles area though, even the theatres seem to be reluctant to look past the race thing. There is so called multicultural casting, especially in the holiday warhorses, but so often it seems like a stunt, an attempt to shoehorn, instead of an honest attempt to find the best actor. Things have gotten worse, instead of better, with the closing of ethnic programs at the major theatres like SCR and the Taper. The big theatres seem to think that their audiences wouldn’t accept a person of color in a traditional role. But I think the theatres are underestimating their audiences. Thats why theatres like Boston Court and Playwrights Horizon are so important. They are on the forefront of a NEW theatre, a theatre that will be more relevant to the many races and cultures that intermix and intermarry.
They have to be. Theatres are hemorrhaging young people. They need to see themselves onstage and they seldom do. In my son’s preschool almost every child has one “ethnic” parent and one “white” parent. The kids are a crayon box of skin and hair. But on stage? Not so much. Tweens and teens have a casualness with race that we don’t have. They don’t box themselves in by color.
We need to make theatre with the crayon box. There are actors like Audra MacDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell pushing the boundaries, playing traditionally white roles and audiences don’t even blink. Cast an Asian Hedda Gabler and don’t make a point of it to the audience and see what happens. Or a Latina Blanche DuBois. Or a Samoan Lear.
I bet even the gangbangers would stay for the post show discussion.