As graduation grows closer and closer I have started going on more auditions for potential projects I might be a part of in the fall and throughout the next year. I recently got into a heated discussion with my parents on the subject of work and accepting work presented to me. I recently auditioned for a role where the character is outside of my own racial/ethnic background. I feel kind of uneasy about it and question, why didn’t this company audition someone of the racial/ethnic make up of the character? My parents response (as is the response of most I would assume is) “If they offer you the job, take it. Don’t question it. A job is a job and as a new actor in the scene, take what you can get.”
In response to these suggestions, I understand. I get it, and if offered the job I would be stupid to turn down a paid opportunity! But as someone who so STRONGLY believes that stories about certain groups/communities of people are best told by people within that community I feel very conflicted.
My fellow classmate Abby recently wrote a post in response to Stiofán MacAmhalghaidh Âû’ HowlRound article “Casting a Non-Autistic Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time on Broadway.” The agreement that both Abby and the author of the article concluded to is that the most authentic storytelling of this specific characters experience would be from someone who identifies as autistic and lives the experience. I couldn’t agree more. As someone who has a sister with Aspergers Syndrome (a highly functioning level of autism on the Autism spectrum) I can honestly say that if Julia (my step sister) wanted to be in a play she most definitely could carry out the task.
However, the author brings up an interesting point about “truth”. Speaking solely from my knowledge of my sisters experience and my experience with her, connecting emotionally, and socially with people physically is extremely hard for her to do. It took several years for Julia to learn how to feel comfortable being touched, hugged, or even expressing her feelings. When it comes to “truth telling” in the theatre, you need an actor who is going to be able to access emotions and vulnerability more easily, and speaking from my narrowed knowledge of Aspergers and Autism, that might prove to be a challenge.
Now, I can only speak to my specific experience with someone who identifies as autistic. That is not to say EVERY Autistic person faces these challenges; that may not be true. AND if that is not true for that particular actor then I say YES. Absolutely cast them in the role. My response to both my classmate and the articles conclusion is a conflicted one. I agree whole heartedly that anyone who knows the experience has more of a platform to speak and act it. However, if I were asked to play the role of someone who is autistic It is not to say that I couldn’t truthfully create that characters experience because as an actor my job is to embody the Human experience. We are asked to recreate stories and play characters outside of our own experience. That is acting. That being said, If a white actor were cast in the role of a designated black character there would be a tremendous amount of outrage and rightfully so! So why in the case of disability is there not the same amount of widespread conversation? In part, I believe it is because race is an ongoing cultural discussion while the conversation of disability has not come to the for front.
There are all kinds of actors out there in the world. If you are looking for a Native American actor, an autistic actor, a deaf actor, tri-lingual actor, or an actor who can juggle fire – you can find them, if you are looking. However I logically understand if a theatre company could stumble upon a great actor that can live that experience fully and truthfully why they might want to cast that actor. As an actor who has played characters outside of my experience my business sense tells me not to say no, but morally I’m conflicted.
No one wants to offend. Everyone wants to tell the truth the best way they can and for myself, I am learning where I stand on this very complicated issue.