The Casting of a Play: Reflecting Community Diversity on Stage for the Audience
by Fanny Garcia
Audiences rarely hear about the casting work that brings together actors for a stage play.
In L.A., the Latino Theater Company collaborated with Chemin Bernard of Chemin Bernard Casting and Jean Bruce Scott, Producing Executive Director at Native Voices at the Autry to bring together a multicultural group of talented artists for the upcoming production of the road weeps, the well runs dry, by Marcus Gardley. Finding Native American actors proved especially difficult, “The most challenging roles to cast were Trowbridge and Mary South. We were committed to casting Native Americans in these roles but they simply weren’t submitted by their reps, nor did they self-submit,” explained Chemin Bernard. Furthermore, many of the actors who did submit headshots did not live in the L.A. area. In these cases, the casting team accepted self-taped submissions. On many occasions, Jean Bruce Scott called the actors personally and encouraged them to submit headshots for consideration. The casting team considered the actors’ ethnicity and the diversity of their talent in their casting process. The criteria in the casting notice requested actors that could “move fluidly and harmonize well” as well as have “a strong demand for poetic language.” Although only one of the roles in the play was required to sing, Director Shirley Jo Finney understood that music would be an important part of the L.A. production. She brought in renowned American soul singer, songwriter, and musical theater performer Brenda Lee Eager to work with the cast as a vocal coach. According to Eager, song and music are important because “it adds another dimension to the play. Music binds all things together and it stirs the heart and passion like no other medium or force.”
After the audition process, many actors (even those who weren’t cast) expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to read roles that were not stereotypical representations of their ethnicity. Actress Simone Cook, cast as Sweet Tea, expressed why being cast was important for her, “As a Black woman, I am excited about stories that tell of my people’s unique history in this country…the rich culture and history of Black Seminole Freedman and their influence as frontiersman, early business and landowners, and their [intertwined history] with Native Americans.”
The collaboration with multicultural organizations like Native Voices at the Autry, Chemin Bernard Casting and the Latino Theatre Company has created a creative community on stage that reflects the multicultural diversity of the city of Los Angeles. The cast includes African Americans with Native American heritage and the Native American actors include members of the Cherokee, Shuswap, and Blackfeet tribes. The production crew is also diverse and includes a technical director of Japanese-Hawaiian decent, a stage manager who is Mexican-American, a scenic designer born in Portugal, a costume designer who is African-American, a lighting and projections manager who is Mexican, and a sound designer of French-Mexican ancestry. It is undeniable that the road weeps, the well runs dry by Marcus Gardley has facilitated the expression of a multicultural American narrative to Los Angeles audiences and will fill the seats of the theater with an audience that is equally diverse.