Okay, so maybe it’s the perpetual student in me or all the theory articles filed away in my nerd brain, but I think all of us casting directors need to sit down for an old fashioned study session on Critical Race Theory in media.
You bring the highlighters, I’ll bring the snacks.
I’ve spoken many times about how casting, unlike many other professions, has no textbook or course of study. So many of us are learning on the job, creating our own curriculums and doing our best to do our jobs as efficiently & creatively as possible. But in this perpetual industry rush & lack of recorded institutional knowledge, we are often writing and rewriting the rules to be a casting director.
Now, I am all here for thoughtful revision, but frankly we need a change in author. American theater was made for and by white men. It was not built with me in mind (chubby Latina enters stage left) and frankly, it was not built with most of us in mind. Those in power have built a system catered to their sensibilities, their identities and their desires, ignoring the racial harm & inequities that have been consequences of their priorities and lack of accountability. So now, here we are in “The Great Intermission”, a treacherous and uncertain time for all of us arts workers, but also is a time for all of us to stop and rethink how we approach our art and how each of us can be a positive agent of change towards greater equity and representation. We need to be intentional with our efforts towards inclusivity and reckon with the harm perpetuated in our creative spaces.
Casting Directors are uniquely powerful in this situation. We are advocates, we are curators, we are guides and imagineers, but most importantly we are people-focused artistic collaborators. All of us crave a deep understanding of our characters in order to breathe life into them, thus we need to invest in the deep understanding of others’ lived experiences, especially if they do not mirror our own. So how do we invest? We study. We learn. We make way for new voices. And we use our positional power to uplift and center communities that theater has routinely ignored.
So here’s the homework:
I invite casting directors to do some reading. Take a walk through your local library and search names like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, Jose Esteban Munoz, Harvey Young. Explore the writers & academics who have been discussing these topics for decades. While we do not have textbooks about what we do and how to do it, we can use other people’s voices & stories to inform our work and how we support actors.
Let us listen to the voices of today, the activists changing our industry right now, and let their voices push us forward. Broadway For Racial Justice, Broadway Advocacy Coalition, We See You WAT, they all have equity and restorative justice at the top of their agenda and so should we. Make the commitment to stand with Black, Indigenous, People of Color and center them in our work and speak out against inequity.
Hire casting directors of color. Our voices are vital to the relevancy & reconstruction of American Theater. Hire them for your productions, in your casting offices and allow them to not only be in the room, but lead the room.
Cast performers of color and create a work environment that not only celebrates their contribution, but supports their artistry & personhood. Talk to your artists, ask them what they need, and learn how to do better by them.
Listen, I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers. I’m still a student of my craft and hope to always be one. But if I’ve learned anything in my studies it’s this: our power to make change is abundant. Each person, no matter how far they are in their creative journeys, their professional titles, or the size of their project, has power to create real impact. Theatre’s greatest power is the power to provoke thought, to challenge our communities and imagine something grander than we are. And that power is limitless. If we continue to question “how it’s always been done”, we begin our journey towards transformative justice in the performing arts. As students of our craft, we will fumble and fall and fail, but we must also hold ourselves accountable for our mistakes and work harder to fix them. That is what makes our power as learners & artists revolutionary.
Welcome to the study group. Books and snacks are on the table, let’s get to work and better serve our community.
Danica Rodriguez is a New York casting director & theatermaker who is dedicated to centering & celebrating the voices of the global majority. Danica has worked at Marc Hirschfeld Casting, Warner Brothers Television Casting NY and most recently The Public Theater’s casting department, under Jordan Thaler & Heidi Griffiths. Danica’s core values of generosity & equity led her to her role as trainer & educator for Broadway for Racial Justice’s Casting Directive. As a proud Puerto Rican & Mexican-American woman, she believes inclusivity is a radical act and chooses to uplift the voices of BIPOC, Trans folks & Queer artists and was recently chosen as a 2021 TCG Rising Leader of Color. Danica has also taken on projects connected to Netflix, LALIFF, & The Civilians, bringing her keen eye to a multitude of artistic mediums. As a freelance casting director, she has been invited to speak at The Playwrights Realm & Roundabout Theater Company. Danica holds a Bachelor of Arts with distinction in Film & Media Studies from Dartmouth College. danicarodriguez.com @da.n.i.ca (Instagram)