Looks like I'm not the only one a little creeped out by the 5th Avenue Theater's multiracial casting experiment in Oklahoma!, at least judging from the following email they just sent out:
I’m sending this message because The 5th has been receiving some strong responses to the portrayal of race in Oklahoma! I have seen a lot of commentary from readers on recently published reviews, and suspect there is more to come. If you’d like to offer your readers a forum to continue the conversation about race in this production, The 5th is hosting 4 panel discussions (Feb 18, 19, 25, and 26 between the matinee and the evening show), and a Town Hall Meeting on Monday, March 5.
Four panel discussions and a town hall meeting? How very Seattle.
The full press release after the jump:
The 5th’s RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S OKLAHOMA!
Delves Into Deeper Issues of Race
Panel Discussions and Town Hall Meeting Set to Continue Dialogue
(Wednesday, February 15, 2012 – SEATTLE, WA) The 5th Avenue Theatre will host panel discussions and a Town Hall meeting to engage audiences about the portrayal of race in its current production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Called “provocative” by the Seattle Times, this new production features an African American actor as the antagonist, sparking vigorous discussion among audiences about racism both in 1907 (when the musical is set), and in society and the arts today.
The choice to cast African American actor Kyle Scatliffe as the farm hand Jud Fry has been earning strong reactions. While Scatliffe has been applauded for his nuanced portrayal of the character, there are some audiences who are concerned that having the only African American performer among the principals play the villain reinforces negative stereotypes about African American men. “It’s impossible to avoid racial implications,” said The Seattle P.I. While The 5th is the first major arts organization to make this particular casting choice, the concept of diversity in the cast of Oklahoma! is not new. Portland Center Stage explored this concept a year ago with an all-black cast and Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. cast the show with African American actresses portraying Laurey and Aunt Eller.
“There were things I wanted to explore based on the research I had done,” said Choreographer and Spectrum Dance Theater Artistic Director Donald Byrd of his approach to the collaboration. “The musical takes place at a time when the Oklahoma Territory was being considered for statehood. In 1907, Oklahoma had more all-black communities than the rest of the country being put together.” In fact, from 1865 to 1920, African Americans created more than 50 identifiable towns and settlements in Oklahoma, some of which still exist today. There was even a movement to make Oklahoma an all-black state. The new 5th Avenue production has been inspired by and captures some of this history.
“While we never intended to evoke such strong responses, I am in many ways heartened that this production has people talking about these important issues,” said The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Executive Producer and Artistic Director David Armstrong. “The idea that musicals could, and should, tackle big themes and significant subjects largely began with Oklahoma! and I am not unhappy to see that legacy continue.” He added, “We did believe that this casting would amplify the inherent drama in the story. I’ve seen dozens of productions of Oklahoma!, but never before have I felt such empathy for Jud, and never before have I felt so sad when he dies.”
“I never would have imaged that in 2012 a production of this almost 70-year-old musical could cause such a stir. I am a firm believer that great theater inspires dialogue, and I look forward to engaging our audiences on this difficult subject and hearing their reactions to this unorthodox casting choice.”
Panel discussions will take place between the matinee performance and evening performance on February 18 and 25 at 5:00 PM and February 19 and 26 at 4:30 PM, and will feature Spectrum Dance Theater Artistic Director and Oklahoma! Choreographer Donald Byrd and The 5th Avenue’s David Armstrong. A Town Hall Meeting featuring the executive team at The 5th Avenue Theatre and members of the creative team for Oklahoma! will take place on Monday, March 5, at 7:00 PM.
FOR CALENDAR EDITORS:
WHAT: The 5th Avenue Theatre has set plans to host panel discussions and a Town Hall meeting to engage audiences about the portrayal of race in the current presentation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Called “provocative” by the Seattle Times, this new production features an African American actor as the antagonist, sparking vigorous discussion among audiences about racism both in 1907 (when the musical is set), and in society and the arts today.
WHEN: 5:00 PM, February 18 – Panel Discussion
4:30 PM, February 19 – Panel Discussion
5:00 PM, February 25 – Panel Discussion
4:30 PM, February 26 – Panel Discussion
7:00 PM, March 5 – Town Hall Meeting
WHERE: The 5th Avenue Theatre (1308 5th Avenue, Seattle)
INFO: For more information, please visit http://www.5thavenue.org/education/adult-programs#show-talk
MORE ABOUT THE 5TH AVENUE’S OKLAHOMA!
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma plays through March 4, 2012 at The 5th Avenue Theatre (1308 5th Avenue, Seattle). For tickets (starting at $29) or information, please please visit www.5thavenue.org or call the Box Office at (206) 625-1900. Tickets may also be purchased at (888) 5TH-4TIX.
Special thanks to The 5th's 2011-12 season co-sponsors Safeco Insurance, US Bank, and the Seattle Times. Additional thanks to Oklahoma! production sponsors KCTS and The National Endowment for the Arts.####