THE BEST AND WORST | NYC’s MCC Theater gets a thumbs-down in the culture of casting equality

BY RANDY GENER

NEW YORK CITY |  Numbers turned out to be the smoking gun.  MCC Theater hired “no minorities at all” during the 2014–15 theater season in New York.  The busy troupe produced 4 plays that season and had a collective total of 21 roles it could have parsed out to New York actors of any ethnicity. But did MCC cast those plays non-traditionally?

Nope.

How many Asian American actors got to work at MCC?

Nada. “0%” of those 21 roles were cast with Asian Americans.

That’s one of the most glaring statistical findings on the state of ethnic representation on New York stages, according to a sobering new survey released tonight (May 2) by Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC) at Fordham University‘s Lincoln Center campus.

"RepresentAsian" poster of AAAPAC: Asian American Performing Arts Coalition
“RepresentAsian” poster of AAAPAC (Asian American Performing Arts Coalition) from 2012

Over the past 9 years, the advocacy group has been gathering a solid set of numbers, and this year, it publicly released several uncomfortable conclusions about how non-white actors have routinely not been hired on Broadway and Off-Broadway.

AAPAC’s event, “Beyond Orientalism: The Forum,” consisted of a panel discussion, breakout sessions, two video pieces, and a participatory component in which many attendees gave voice to their worries, their hurt, their idealistic impulses — not to mention their irritation and anger at a New York theater system which has rendered them invisible.

Interestingly, while every one of the non-profit theatres studied did employ Asian American actors, MCC Theater joined four other nonprofit outfits who (it seems) have resolutely been unwilling to cast against type.  Those other four were Primary Stages, Signature Theatre and York Theatre Company.

All four bucked a surprisingly positive overall trend in the hiring of Asian American actors. “Percentages of Asian American representation among the non-profits have been higher than the 9-year average of 4.4% for the past 3 years, indicating an upward trend,” the AAPAC report stated.

How did everyone else rate?  The answer:  Variably.


“Ethnic Representation on New York Stages 2014–2015”
By Asian American Performers Coalition (AAPAC)
NYC’S LEAST DIVERSE THEATERS

Thumbs-DownThe following theatre companies hired the lowest number of actors of color based on the percentages of available roles at their theatre.  MCC Theater was the only theatre studied that hired no minority actors at all this season.

  1. MCC THEATER (0%)
  2. YORK THEATRE COMPANY (12% — tied)
    CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY (12% — tied)
  3. ATLANTIC THEATRE COMPANY (18 %)
  4. ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY (20%)
  5. MANHATTAN THEATRE CLUB (28%)
NY STAGES WITH LOWEST RECORD OF NON-TRADITIONAL CASTING:

MCC theater joined four other theatres, which “had the lowest percentage of nontraditionally cast roles,” the survey found — “though one — The Signature Theatre — was one of the theatres that hired the most minority actors but in race-specific roles.”

  1. THE NEW GROUP (0% of 5 minority actors — tied)
    MCC THEATER (0% of 0 minority actors — tied)
    YORK THEATRE COMPANY (0% of 1 minority actor — tied)
    SIGNATURE THEATRE (0% of 29 minority actors — tied)
    PRIMARY STAGES (0% of 7 minority actors—tied)

Hey.  It’s not all bad news.

Thumbs Up Thumbs Down up“Asian American representation within the non-profit sector increased to 7% this year from 5% the preceding season,” the report continued. “Percentages of Asian American representation among the non-profits have been higher than the 9-year average of 4.4% for the past 3 years, indicating an upward trend.”

A few other statistics showed a rosier picture.

NEW YORK’S MOST DIVERSE THEATERS:

The following theatre companies hired the greatest number of actors of color based on the percentage of available roles at their theatre.  The Public Theater topped the list of companies this year.

  1. THE PUBLIC THEATER (62%)
  2. SECOND STAGE THEATRE (53%)
  3. NEW YORK THEATRE WORKSHOP (50%)
  4. PRIMARY STAGES (44% — a tie)
  5. THEATRE FOR A NEW AUDIENCE (44% — a tie)
  6. SIGNATURE THEATRE (43%)
NY STAGES WITH HIGHEST RECORD OF NON-TRADITIONAL CASTING:

The following theaters had the highest percentage of roles that were cast non-traditionally out of all available roles at their theatre spaces.

  1. CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY (100% of 6 minority actors)
  2. VINEYARD THEATRE (78% of 9 minority actors)
  3. NEW YORK THEATRE WORKSHOP (75% of 8 minority actors)
  4. THEATRE FOR A NEW AUDIENCE (61% of 18 minority actors)
  5. THE PUBLIC THEATER (48% of 61 minority actors)

WHAT ABOUT BROADWAY?

AAPAC’s study stated:  “One show, The King and I, was responsible for contributing over half of all employment for Asian American actors. The industry as a whole was diverse, but Broadway actually declined with one of the poorest showings of African American employment on record. Non-traditional casting percentages have largely remained unmoved in 9 years of tracking statistics, and Asian Americans remain the minority least likely to transcend their race.”

Ken Watanabe and Kelli O Hara in Lincoln Centers THE KING AND I
Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara in Lincoln Center Theater’s THE KING AND I on Broadway

Numbers for minority actors on Broadway actually fell 3 points to 22% over the previous year.  The fascinating study opines that “Asian Americans saw the most dramatic increase to 11% of all roles from 2% the year prior thanks in large part to The King and I.  Average representation for the 8 years prior had been 1.8% of Broadway roles.”

Meanwhile, figures reflecting other non-white actors were rated not-great. “African American actors were cast in 17% of all roles, Latino actors in 3%, Asian American actors in 9% and all other minorities (including disabled actors) comprised less than 1%,” the study reported.

Predictably, Broadway and Off-Broadway benefited greatly from the unbearable whiteness of being. In a year when the non-profits set minor records for inclusion, numbers for minority actors on Broadway actually fell 3 points to 22% over the previous year. This was lower than the average over the last five years, which was 24%.

“Caucasian actors,” AAPAC’s unique study said, “filled 70% of all roles. Caucasians continue to be the only ethnicity to over-represent compared to their respective population size in the New York City/Tri-State area. African-American and Latino representation remained unchanged from the previous year (17% and 3% respectively).”

And so it goes. — rg, in the culture of one world

NOTE:  There are more statistics to come.  Bookmark this space.

EXCLUSIVE SOURCE: “Ethnic Representation on New York Stages 2014–2015” by Asian American Performers Coalition (AAPAC)

 

 

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