Taking Action Toward Racial Equity with Socially Conscious Casting

Bold Initiatives Take Time.

Like so many of us in our personal lives, Performing Arts Organizations are truly starting to have the difficult and much-needed conversations about diversity and equality in their organizations and in the Arts in general. Taking a good long look in the mirror, many companies are initiating a period of listening, learning, and un-learning as they look for ways to ensure that they are building an Anti-Racist Art form. Many are reaching out to professional and community-based advisors to guide them in generating a richer representation of race in the leadership and administration of their teams as well as confronting systemic and often unconscious racism in their organization.

I have been working on production concepts that transcend traditional casting in standard repertory operas since 2014. Talented singers of color are not getting work they deserve, so I have been envisioning ways to help create a sense of inclusion in the opera world for my friends and colleagues of color. I am happy to be preparing a Milwaukee-specific production of the Harlem Renaissance Bohème included in my list of proposals at Florentine Opera, which was slated for early 2021 and has been postponed to the 2023-24 Season due to the pandemic. I have also been in talks with companies to produce a Carmen set in the Soweto Township in South Africa, and a voodoo Macbeth set in New Orleans, and other Color Conscious productions from the inherited rep.

As a white male, I am aware that regardless of my intentions, my choice of words may sometimes be poorly informed or chosen—that privilege betrays me more than I am aware. To ensure success, these productions must be executed with thought and sensitivity. As a director, it is essential that I listen and learn in this conversation, and that together with casts and creative teams, ultimately move past the conversation into action.

I can protest, post my feelings on social media and cast my vote—which I will continue to do as a citizen – but it is as a stage director that I can take action to right this wrong in the domain where I can influence actual change immediately. New works by composers of color are needed in the repertoire, but “standard rep productions” can also be a testament to the strength and talents of casts of color in a classical art form.

I realize that bold initiatives take time, especially now given the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and all that is unknown in the short term. Clearly these are not the only operas we might create this way (I am currently exploring others), and these are not the only ways to diversify these particular operas, but I am actively contacting companies for collaboration to realize productions such as these while the conversations take place in the world around us.

Please contact me for a representative list of production proposals for operas that I am exploring with Socially Conscious casts.  I will continue to update this list as I research more productions in this light.

June, 2020