We are writing to let you know about some actions La Co-Op’s Coordinating Team has taken in response to the casting of White American actresses in PlayCo’s production of Guillermo Calderón’s Villa. As described by the company’s website, the play focuses on “three women charged with deciding the future of the Villa Grimaldi, an infamous detention camp of Chile’s Pinochet government.” However, two of the three women cast in the show are White American actresses, one of which is in a role where the character also identifies as being indigenous, specifically from the Mapuche people.
After several members of La Co-Op’s Coordinating Team went to see the production, we reached out to other Latinx theatre makers we knew who had seen it as well, others who had not, and did our own personal research into PlayCo’s history and the production history of Villa– based on the information we discovered, we collectively decided that a response was needed.
We reached out to PlayCo and the writer and director of the play and this production, Guillermo Calderón, to get more information about the casting decisions in this production and to request a sit-down meeting to fully express our outrage and concerns. That meeting took place Monday, March 27, 2017, and we were honored to have the support of The Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA), and the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC). PlayCo’s Founding Producer Kate Loewald and Interim Managing Director Robert G. Bradshaw attended on behalf of the production, and actively listened and participated in the conversation. Based on our conversation, the attending members of La Co-Op’s Coordinating Team (Raquel Almazán, Arlene Chico-Lugo, and Beto O’Byrne), believe that our concerns about how the production replicates a damaging practice were heard, that an important conversation has begun with PlayCo about this subject matter, and we sincerely hope that it continues.
Sr. Calderón had originally agreed to attend the meeting but opted to withdraw for unknown reasons. PlayCo’s representatives read to us via a written statement from him that, among several references regarding aspects of this production and others of Villa, the casting choice was made because he felt it was the best way to highlight the state sanctioned violence and rape in the play, and that casting White American bodies in a story about the Chilean torture center, Villa Grimaldi, felt like the neutral option that could allow more people to relate.
To be clear and explicit, La Co-Op strongly rejects the premise that whiteness is a universal experience for Latinx people and all people of color. Whiteness is not neutrality. We are shocked and dismayed by this choice in casting and that the replacing of Latinx bodies to tell our stories continues to occur. The reinforcement of the White-dominant narrative is a painful practice that is damaging to the psyche, the spirit, and the livelihood of Latinx theatre practitioners and the community at large.
However, this practice happens at an alarming frequency, and La Co-Op believes a larger forum to discuss these issues is necessary. For this reason we have asked PlayCo to participate in a public conversation, alongside other leading institutions, to discuss the issues of whitewashing, colorism, and cultural responsibility. They have agreed and we are working on the details for that town hall [meeting].
We have also asked them to undertake anti-racism training, which La Co-Op believes that all cultural workers, artists, and theatre makers would benefit from taking, regardless of social location, ethnicity, or personal experiences. We sincerely hope PlayCo’s staff undergoes this training. To view the statement issued to PlayCo, please CLICK HERE.
We will keep you updated on the details for the upcoming Town Hall, and we hope you will attend and add your voice to this conversation. In addition, we are currently collecting information about shows that have, to various degrees, participated in the whitewashing, or cultural appropriation of the Latinx experience, and what it feels like to experience this work. Please CLICK HERE to add your voice to this important collection. You can participate anonymously, if you are more comfortable in doing so.
For more information on the statistical research of performers of color in the American Theatre please visit: http://www.aapacnyc.org/stats-2014-2015.html.
Thank you for your continued support in the fight for representation! May we continue to imagine a world of equity and inclusion.
Arlene Chico-Lugo- writer/performer, Co-Founder of Liberation Arts Collective
Beto O’Byrne, Co-Founder, Radical Evolution
Jessica Carmona - Actress, Playwright at Si Se Puede Productions, LLC
Yadira De La Riva, Performer/Writer/Producer
Christin Eve Cato, Actor/Producer, Cambreleng Productions, LLC
STAY TUNED FOR CONTINUING DEVELOPMENTS.