The Western Regional Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (EEOC), chaired by Ivy Bethune, hosted its First Annual Multicultural/Diversity in Casting Celebration at Theatre West in Los Angeles on January 27, 2003. The evening honored Tim Dang (Producing Artistic Director, East West Players), Ben Donenberg (Artistic Director, Shakespeare Festival/Los Angeles), Sheldon Epps (Artistic Director, Pasdadena Playhouse), Julia Flores (Casting Director, Flores Casting) and April Webster (Casting Director, Webster Casting) for their contributions to non-traditional casting. A panel discussion followed, moderated by Western Region Business Rep Michael Van Duzer.
With approximately 150 Equity/SAG/AFTRA members in attendance, the mood was one of compassion and humor. Topics of discussion ranged from actors empowering themselves, to educating producers about using actors with disabilities, actors learning to do target marketing for themselves, advice on keeping your chops up, showing up to auditions and keeping the faith.
Tim Dang (also a "paid up Equity member") spoke of becoming involved with issues of exclusion during the Miss Saigon controversy, and empowering himself by starting to write, direct and produce, while also creating opportunities for other Asian Pacific American artists at East West Players. Ben Donenberg said that with inclusional casting, Shakespeare Festival/Los Angeles was simply doing what Shakespeare mandated: holding up the mirror to nature. He urged actors to continue auditioning, and not decide that they were not right for roles before trying. He said, "If you let yourself say 'No' to yourself, you take yourself out of the game." Sheldon Epps spoke of how he diversified his audience at the Pasadena Playhouse by changing the programming to include more cultures. When asked by an African-American audience member how to respond when asked at an audition to read a character as "more black," Mr. Epps got the biggest laugh of the evening by replying, "I would say, 'Why don't you show me what you mean? You first.'"
COMING TO CALLS
Julia Flores told actors to keep attending the open LORT auditions that Equity holds, and to show up prepared, having done their homework. She urged actors to be proud of who they are. April Webster called casting "a collaboration" and when asked how to overcome ageism, responded, "If you're willing to believe all the myths and platitudes that there are no roles, then that becomes your reality." She encouraged actors to keep their chops up by being in play-reading groups, attending classes and going to every audition possible. She warned against wasting time with blind mass mailings, but emphasized how much she lvoed getting postcards about current projects or references to being right for specific roles she was casting.
The event was inspired and full of positive reinforcement that inclusion benefits us all. The clear message was that we must continue pushing down barriers of exclusion from all sides of the industry, together.
—Christine Toy Johnson, originally published in Equity News January/February 2003