Four students quit musical, alleging casting bias

Ayomi Wolff

Junior Nikki Keating, senior Aline Contreras, and two students who chose to remain anonymous resigned from this year’s fall musical, “Matilda,” because they believe the show was cast unfairly and didn’t make students of color feel comfortable. 

“I didn’t see myself being in it,” said Contreras. “I didn’t see any Hispanics [in the Broadway musical].”

Musical director Karen Harris said that she casts holistically and is aware of “accessible casting, race-conscious casting, and what the show dictated and what it did not.” Harris added that “‘Matilda’ didn’t dictate anything on race.”

But despite Harris’ efforts, Keating claims that she was typecast, a process in which a person is chosen for a role based on their appearance. “[Lavender] is known as Matilda’s black best friend,” said Keating. “I only got it because of the way I looked.” 

Contreras believes the issue is about more than just casting. “[The Wilson theater department] doesn’t choose musicals that represent Wilson as a whole,” Contreras said. “Matilda is only targeting a group of people.” 

Following the decision to quit the musical, a meeting was held to discuss the students’ grievances. The four members who quit, the adult advisors of Wilson theater group Labels Off, and Harris all attended the meeting. The talk was held to voice the student’s concerns and announce their plans to quit the production.

“[The theater community] can only grow [through] discussion and conversation,” Harris said. In an effort to continue that discussion, Harris brought in Christopher Michael Richardson, an actor of color who plays Mr. Wormwood from Olney Theater’s Matilda, to speak to her cast. “The best thing we can do to combat [racial issues in theater] is… making sure we are conscious of inviting people of varying colors, abilities, genders,” said Richardson. 

This is not the first time that students of color have complained about Wilson theater. Two years ago, “Legally Blonde” was criticized for its lack of diversity. That same year the spring play, “The Colored Museum,” was canceled after uproar regarding its satirical take on serious racial issues.  

Senior Woodfen Mclean, who plays Mr. Wormwood in Wilson’s production of “Matilda”, noted that although Wilson theater has been criticized in the past, “[In ‘Matilda’ and ‘Rent’], none of them have roles that are supposed to be cast with one race.” 

Freshman Sara Scherlinder said she loves being in ‘Matilda,’ but being one of the few people of color makes her feel somewhat out of place, “like the odd one out”. 

“It feel[s] like it’s our job to be part of musicals and plays,” Keating said. “There should be enough [people of color] to make it seem like it we’re doing [theater] because we want to.”

Even though they quit, the students don’t want to encourage others from quitting or to shut down the musical. “We are not trying to cancel ‘Matilda,’” Contreras said. “We just want people to see what the issue is with ‘Matilda.’” 

Harris understands the students’ choice to leave the musical. “I totally support their decision,” Harris said. “I hope that they, after that conversation, felt better about this show.”