Marie-Reine Velez, AAP Producing Artistic Leader
Recently, Artists at Play co-founder Peter J. Kuo wrote a thoughtful piece on the cast announcement for the Roundabout’s new production of Noises Off and why the all-white cast is problematic. It’s a really great read that explores the traditional combative response of “hiring the best talent” and illuminates what it means when you put forth an all-white cast for non-ethnically specific characters in 2015. It’s not a typical lambasting, because Peter is more sympathetic than that. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you do so here.

I bring up Peter’s post because ever since the beginning of Artists at Play, the founders have had many discussions about diversity in theatre and our stages, including how to advocate in public forums, color-blind casting vs. color-intentional casting, how to call out organizations and productions with all-white casts, working with companies looking to diversify, and celebrating the people who “get it.” Sometimes it feels like we spend as much time discussing diversity and inclusion in theatre as we do working on our programming and productions!

I don’t want to pretend that we have all the answers or that we are pioneers in this field. We are in it alongside our predecessors and peers. We are adding our perspective to add strength to the collective voice that both talks about and executes work in diversifying theatre locally and nationally. And that’s why this work is so important. In our work, there is a responsibility to create space and opportunities for diverse artists who represent the different facets of the world we live in. To celebrate diversity is to celebrate a difference in perspectives, to illuminate the truths of others, and to value humanity. This is one of the reasons why diverse artists get upset when we see an announcement with an all-white or whitewashed cast. The consequences of putting forth an all-white cast can range from feeling undervalued to feeling invisible, and everything in between. And at this point, it’s really shitty to feel so disappointed so many times by the choices of others, and of fellow artists and producers.

So when the Artists at Play producers read the script for Madhuri Shekar’s In Love and Warcraft, we immediately discussed the casting. Madhuri places a note in the character breakdown that this play takes place at a university in Southern California, and the cast should reflect the population. I don’t know about you, but I would find difficulty finding a college campus in Southern California that has a homogenous population. We knew we needed to cast this show diversely, and it was really exciting to think about the prospects of doing so.

Our first core value as Artists at Play is to “provide opportunities to underrepresented communities to increase visibility.” And one of the main ways we uphold this value is by hiring diverse artists on stage and behind the scenes.

The first In Love and Warcraft production meeting

Director Alejandra Cisneros, lighting designer Anthony Aguilar, costume designer Magdalena Guillen, sound designer Iris Zacarias, and assistant stage manager Chloe Haack will all be working with Artists at Play for the first time with the upcoming production of In Love and Warcraft. And they are joined by set designer Art Betanzos, props designer Sasha Monge, stage manager Jonathan Castanien, and production manager Brandon Cheng, all who have worked with Artists at Play in the past. This team brings many unique talents together for one production, and what’s exciting to us is the vast array of experience that each production team member brings to the table, having worked with Company of Angels, CASA 0101, East West Players, South Coast Repertory, Inner-City Arts, and more.

The cast of In Love and Warcraft

And then, we have our wonderfully talented cast! The casting process last month was so exciting because this is the first time Artists at Play is producing a play with no ethnic-specific characters. We had plenty of submissions and auditioned a plethora of actors, and when it came down to final decisions, we had the pleasure of going by talent and chemistry. Our actors are genuine, funny, kind, and have great range with the material in the play. Come September once the show opens, you’ll have a great time with them too!

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