Lauren Linsey White is working on a new script.
I have been lucky enough to have listened to this new work develop in our Writers' Group for the better part of a year. In late July we gathered some friends over snacks to hear the work and receive feedback on its progress.
These types of informal readings are a good place to play with casting ideas and to get to know new artists or to see artists whose work we know well in a totally different context. These readings are often such happy events for me, personally, as they combine all the things I love about the process; friends, food, play, and nuts and bolts talk about how the story functions. This reading was no different, but it definitely gave me food for thought.
Lauren wrote a script that is intentionally open to allow for more inclusivity in casting. As a director, I am absolutely thrilled with the opportunity to look at my network of actors and be able to cast anyone who fits the emotional range of the character instead of whether or not they would fit into this pair of pants or look Irish enough or what have you. However, as a White cis-gendered woman, there are things I need to be conscious of when putting a cast together even for "open" scripts like this one. Because, whether we like it or not, how an actor presents becomes a circumstance in the production.
So how do we cast inclusively while also being conscious of stories we are telling outside the text? While I certainly believe that as artists, as human beings, we all have the capacity to tell stories about all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, I don't think capacity is enough. We also need to have the ABILITY to identify how circumstances and experiences differ between people with different backgrounds and how that will be interpreted either by or for the audience. For example, we can have a scene where a woman demands answers of another woman. But how does that scene change when it is a White woman making demands on a Black woman? What circumstances are at play when we cast a Trans woman in either role? What are the power dynamics at play in the situation and how can we be conscious of these dynamics when they are not our firsthand experience? And even the role I play as a White director, how is my lens impacting the story? Is that lens supporting the story? These are things we need to be conscious of as we dig in to narratives during every stage of the process. It isn't enough to just give a POC a role and feel like we have done our bit for equality. We need to ensure that we are allowing the full expression of the artists' personal experience to come through to support (and better yet, expand!) the circumstances of the play. It is the ultimate "yes, AND..." that can make storytelling so rich, layered and exciting. But it requires an awareness as writers, directors and producers that there may be more at stake than we (White) artists may realize.
For example, (and I don't think I am giving away any spoilers here) in Lauren's piece there is a line about how a complaint had been registered against a woman for having hair and make up that was "too natural". This small line carries very different weight for a Black woman than it does for a White woman. The implications of this line spawned a good five minute discussion after the reading touching not only on the casting of the woman but on the casting of her mother and the attitude of a third character on them both! If we gloss over the impact of these circumstances that are present in the text and then heightened (or NOT) by casting choices, we are doing the truth a disservice by pretending we experience all circumstances the same way.
Presumably, truth is what we are here for.
I know it may sound like I am picking on my fellow White artists. Maybe I am? Or maybe I am simply making a plea for us to do the one thing we are REQUIRED to do in the rehearsal room: listen. This is the opportunity we are blessed with! We get to be in rooms with one another and share the depth of our experiences with one another and then bring all of those beautiful things to an audience. When we bring it all and hear it all and share it all, we make the world look different by degrees.
It may be a drop in the bucket...
... but it is a drop that wasn't there a minute ago.