November 30, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: María F. Nieto
(212) 253-1015 MariaFNieto@hellohola.org
(New York, NY) – The Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) denounces the inappropriate casting of two non-Latinos in the Latino specific roles of “Jackie” and Veronica” in TheaterWorks of Hartford’s current production of The Motherf**ker with the Hat.
As the nation’s longest running arts service and advocacy organization, HOLA is dedicated to expanding the presence of Latino artists in entertainment and media through the cultivation, education and recognition of emerging artists. As such, HOLA strives for accurate, informed and non-stereotyped portrayal of the full spectrum of Latino culture and heritage in all entertainment and media industries. As a trusted organization of the Latino community with a long history of advocacy on behalf of Latino actors and Latino portrayals across all media, HOLA was contacted by audience members for TheaterWorks’ production who were outraged at the casting choices that resulted in the casting efforts made by the theater, the play’s director and the play's casting director, Pat McCorkle.
HOLA contacted the parties involved, including TheaterWorks’ director of communications Fred McInerney, its General Manager Nicole LaFlair Nieves and its Executive Director Steve Campo as well as the production’s director, Tazewell Thompson and the playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis.
HOLA received strong support for its stance by Mr. Guirgis who stated: “The two romantic leads in my play were written very specifically as Latinos in their late 30s -- Nuyoricans to be exact. When HOLA contacted me about the casting of the regional premiere of my play in Hartford, it seemed curious to me that TheaterWorks had cast two young white actors in their early 20s to play characters who were quite different from them both age-wise and ethnicity-wise. Since the play was cast in NYC and Hartford, it seemed even more curious to me that actors closer in age and ethnicity could apparently not be found. I believe firmly in casting the best actors for the roles, but when you write a play about two characters who are of a certain age and ethnicity -- and it is cast in NYC -- it is not unreasonable to expect that the actors who get cast will match up fairly squarely with what you wrote and intended. When HOLA sent me the response they had received from TheaterWorks about the casting situation, I was immediately struck by the dismissive tone, the blame shifting, the denial, and quite frankly, the outright lies that TheaterWorks response contained. And then I saw TheaterWorks' character breakdowns for the roles that went out for the auditions, and there was no mention of the ethnicity of the two characters in question. It became clear to me that perhaps TheaterWorks had no intention of casting Latinos in the first place since they weren't asking agents to submit Latino actors for these Latino roles. I then began my own dialogue with TheaterWorks. The director quickly admitted that his actions were "indefensible", but TheaterWorks itself continued to refuse any accountability or responsibility for the situation, and after several attempts at productive discourse, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that TheaterWorks would never cop to any responsibility and that they seemed to be clinging to some logic-challenged notion of; "If we don't admit fault, then there is no fault". I am sincerely grateful to TheaterWorks for having produced my play, but my gratitude does not extend to sitting silently while nonsense like this happens. My mother always taught me that there are sins of commission, and sins of omission. I feel strongly that had I just let this situation be swept under a rug, I would have been committing a sin of omission. I believe in casting the best actor for the role regardless of anything -- including race. But it is my firm contention that this is not what happened here. Latino actors were willfully denied the opportunity to audition and play the roles that were explicitly written for them in my play. This was not an "artistic choice" to go white and younger with these roles -- and if it was, it was a terrible, exclusionary choice that goes directly against the logic of the script. It would have been nice if they had respected me and my play, but this is not about that. It has become about something else. I've got nothing to gain from getting involved in this controversy. But right is right. And I believe that anybody who takes the time to learn more about this situation will quickly see that this is not about race or color blind casting or reverse racism or affirmative action. And yet, sadly, the more I reflect on this, the more the words of Bob Dylan keep echoing in my ears; 'You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.' The wind blew foul here. And I will not lend my silence to it. My mother raised me better. And I thank God she did. Respectfully, Stephen Adly Guirgis.”
Especially troubling to HOLA is the fact that while the casting breakdown for the production did not state the ethnicity of the play’s two lead characters, Jackie and Veronica, as Latinos-- despite having been written as specifically Latino-- that omission stands in stark contrast to the accurate description of the character of “Cousin Julio” (who is Jackie’s cousin) who was cited as specifically Latino, most probably by virtue of the fact that his name makes his ethnicity hard to avoid. Given that the two actors hired to play Jackie and Veronica are also former students of the director, Mr. Thompson, it seems to indicate that the casting efforts made by the director and the casting agency for this production may have been disingenuous at best and exclusionary of Latino acting professionals at worst. HOLA has contacted Actors’ Equity and the Casting Society of America (C.S.A.) to request that formal inquiries be made into the casting practices employed on this production.
It is also important to note that the casting of two non-Latinos for a production in Hartford, Connecticut is truly a missed opportunity for this city whose mayor (Pedro E. Segarra) is Puerto Rican and whose population (according to the 2000 Census) is 40% Latino (32% specifically Puerto Rican).