NEW YORK CITY: The news may be good for black actors, but it is no song of the south for other actors of color.

Actors Christine Toy Johnson (hidden) and Pun Bandhu speaks at “RepresentAsian” symposium | Courtesy of AAPAC

According to a new minority report prepared by a coalition of Asian American actors in New York, blacks were far more likely than any other minority to be cast in roles which were not specifically identified by their race and ethnicity. Meanwhile, Asian Americans were “the least likely of the major minority groups to play roles that were not defined by their race.”

Today this coalition has released the entire report, entitled “Ethnic Representation on New York Stages: 2006/07 to 2010/11 Seasons,” a theater-by-theater breakdown of casting practices on Broadway and by 16 leading nonprofit theater companies.

The conclusions have been described as incendiary and may provoke a long conversation around the complicated issues of casting and true diversity on New York stages. The latest findings released today are:

  • Of the not-for-profit theatre companies over the past five years, The Signature Theatre had the highest representation of actors of color as a percentage of total roles (60%); The Public Theater had the second highest (34%).
  • The Atlantic Theatre Company had the lowest percentage of actors of color (7%), the Roundabout Theatre Company the second lowest (10%).
  • The following theatre companies employed the most Asian American actors, presented here as a proportion of available roles: The New Group (8%), Signature Theatre (7%), The Public Theatre (6%), and Second Stage Theatre (6%).
  • The following theatre companies employed the fewest Asian American actors, presented here as a proportion of available roles: Atlantic Theatre Company (1%), Manhattan Theatre Club (1%), Playwrights Horizons (1%), and Roundabout Theatre Company (1%).

These percentages are based on a total of 6,596 available roles from the past five theater seasons. It does not reflect the current 2011-12 season.

In 2012, the coalition will present the 36 slide shows from this entire report at roundtable discussion moderated by David Henry Hwang, one of America’s greatest living playwrights and author of the most outstanding play of 2011 (Chinglish).

The discussion, “RepresentAsian: The Changing Face of New York Theater,” takes place Monday February 13th at 7 p.m. at the Pope Auditorium at Fordham University.

Casting comparisons of Broadway and Non-Profit Theaters over the past five years

AAPAC began on Facebook. A number of Asian American performers flooded one another’s walls with the question, “Where are all the Asian actors in mainstream New York theater?” Since September 2011, the group began meeting to figure out a course of action.

In a collective, prepared statement, the steering committee members state: “A group of us took on the responsibility of organizing forums for the community to come together to discuss the issue of minority representation on New York City stages. It became clear early on that Asian American performers felt like things were getting worse, not better, and that we were largely invisible in the mainstream. However, there were no public statistics available at the time to verify this perception.”

Casting of actors by ethnic group on Broadway and nonprofit stages | Courtesy of AAPAC

The statement continues:

“A committee was formed to take on the ambitious task of tallying the ethnic make-up of performers on Broadway and at New York City’s most prominent not-for-profit theatre companies over the past five years, the results of which you hold in your hand. This report also contains informal surveys distributed to New York-based actors, playwrights and directors to be used for discussion purposes.

Our fears were legitimized. While it is to the industry’s credit that the total number of minorities and total percentage of roles non-traditionally cast has increased year to year, Asian Americans were the only minority group to see their numbers decline. They were also the group least likely to be cast in roles that were not defined by their race.

Compounded with the fact that there were few Asian stories being told, it is no surprise that employment opportunities seemed so bleak. This seemed out of step when Asian roles in TV, Film, and advertisements were at their highest rates in years. Two percent of all available roles seems unacceptable at a time when Asians comprise 13% of New York City and is the city’s fastest growing major minority group. The theatre industry, it seems, is not keeping pace with the world around it.”

Comparison of ethnic casting at all nonprofit New York theaters | Courtesy of AAPAC

The AAPAC reports wanted to compare minority representation on both the commercial and nonprofit sections. So the past five seasons of 16 of the largest non-profit theaters in New York City were analyzed.  These companies include Atlantic Theatre Company, Classic Stage Company, Lincoln Center Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, MCC, New Group, New York Theatre Workshop, Playwrights Horizons, Primary Stages, Public Theatre, Roundabout Theatre Company, Second Stage, Signature Theatre, Theatre for a New Audience, Vineyard Theatre and York Theatre Company.

Other findings of the AAPAC are:

  • Over the past five years, African American actors were cast in 13% of all roles, Latino Actors in 4% and Asian American actors in 2%. Caucasian actors filled 80% of all roles. They are the only ethnicity to over-represent compared to their respective population size in New York City or the Tri-State area.
  • The total number of minority actors has risen since five years ago, moving from 15% to at or about 22% for the past four years.
  • African American actors saw the biggest gains, rising steadily year to year from 9% five years ago to 17% in the 09/10 season before declining to 14% this past season.
  • Latino actors also saw their numbers increase, though not as dramatically, going from 2% five years ago to a high of 6% in the 07/08 season and then dropping for the next three years to 3%.
  • Asian Americans were the only minority group to see their numbers go down, from 3% five years ago, increasing to a high of 4% in the 07/08 season and then dropping steeply for the next two years to 1 percent in the 09/10 season, with a slight uptick to 2% this past year.
  • Asian American actors were more likely to be employed by the not-for-profits than on Broadway.
  • Asians were 4% of casting in the non-profit sector and only 1.5% of all roles on Broadway in the last five years.
  • The percentage of roles that were non-traditionally cast increased year to year. Last year, 10.6% of all roles played by actors of color were non-traditionally cast. However, this only represents 9% of all available roles.

“This is a fight for visibility, yes,” the AAPAC executive report continues. “It is a fight for equal access to employment opportunities. It is also an opportunity to expand perceptions of race and the range of characters we are allowed to play, a fight we share with all minority actors.  And finally, this is a fight we share with theatre practitioners and audiences of ALL races who thirst for vibrancy and relevancy in the theatre arts and a cultural legacy that reflects the full diversity and complexity of our experiences.

“We hope this report,” AAPAC adds, “will be used to track casting trends now and in the future, will raise awareness of and address inequities where they may exist and can serve as a measure of how far we as a community have come on this issue. More importantly, we hope this report will aid industry leaders in defining the solutions needed towards the creation of a more inclusive industry.

Roles non-traditionally cast, comparison year to year by ethnic groups | Courtesy of AAPAC

AAPAC’S mission is “to expand the perception of Asian American performers in order to increase their access to and representation on New York City’s stages.  The members of the steering committee are Pun Bandhu, Cindy Cheung, Kimiye Corwin, Angel Desai, Siho Ellsmore, Christine Toy Johnson, Peter Kim, Julienne Hanzelka Kim, Nancy Kim Parsons, Kenneth Lee, Allan Mangasar and Eileen Rivera.

“RepresentAsian” convening at LaMaMa E.T.C. | Courtesy of AAPAC

AAPAC and Fordham University present
“RepresentAsian: The Changing Face of New York Theater”
Monday, February 13th, at 7:00 pm
The Pope Auditorium at Fordham University
60th St/and Columbus avenue, just inside main entrance

To RSVP, send an email to  Seating is limited.

Roundtable participants are currently being confirmed and will be announced in the next week.

To check the latest updates and to submit questions for  roundtable participants, go to:

Nancy Kim Parsons, New York actor, at “RepresentAsian” | Courtesy of AAPAC