New theatre director represents step towards inclusivity

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Photo courtesy of Judy Licht

Alexander Diaz-Lopez

Year after year, the Wilson theatre program puts on much anticipated productions, where theatregoers get to see all the magic unfold on stage.  What they don’t see is what happens backstage. Behind the curtain lies a world that lacks opportunities as a result of favoritism and typecasting. Wilson’s decision to hire a new theatre director is a step towards creating a more inclusive and diverse theatre environment for all.

Karen Harris was chosen to lead the theatre program at Wilson this upcoming school year. As new theatre director, Harris decided on the musical “Rent,” the projected musical would have been “Ragtime.” Although “Ragtime” is an ensemble show, it is a show that lends to casting along racial lines. This could have suggested that several students would have been ostracized from Wilson theatre because their skin tone would not have matched the requirement for a specific character or ensemble.

As a Latino student who has participated in Wilson theatre, it’s been often difficult to navigate through a field that is predominately white. At times I’ve felt like an outcast because of my complexion, making it difficult to be recognized for my talents.

After three years of constantly being turned down for lead roles at Alice Deal, I entered Wilson eager for change and hopeful for recognition. Although I hoped for this change, not much was different since the director at Deal was the same director at Wilson.

Last year, “Legally Blonde” was chosen for the fall musical. Students like me, with darker complexions, immediately felt misrepresented, because with a title like “Legally Blonde,” a picture of a white girl with blonde hair immediately comes to mind.

Instead of being a show that represented our values as a school, it was a show that appealed to students who were favorites, the majority of whom were white or had lighter complexions.

As a darker individual, I was typecast into playing the ideal foreign male in this show. I ended up playing this role because after being let down continually, opportunities like these were never offered to me. Even Though I was excited for the role, playing an individual from middle-eastern origins truly offended me. It made me feel like the only thing that I offered to Wilson theatre was my skin complexion and that it stood out above everything else.  

Many Wilson actors strongly believe that acting isn’t about the role one gets. Ironically, this is almost always stated by those who get the opportunities to play prominent roles. Although theatre should be about creating a community, it’s hard to do after persistently being told that one isn’t good enough.

We need a more inclusive program—one that does not see diversity as a black and white issue, but one that affects all kinds of people from different backgrounds. I’m hopeful Karen Harris is a positive move towards that.