The Hamilton non-traditional casting issue continues to reverberate across Broadway.
After a civil rights attorney took exception to a Hamilton casting notice specifying that the show was seeking “non-white” performers, saying the notice may violate the New York City Human Rights Law that forbids discrimination in hiring based on race, Actors Equity Association, the actors' union, weighed in March 30 with a statement agreeing that the notice, as written, was “inconsistent with union policy.”
In the hours that followed, the Equity twitter page was deluged with posters who disagreed with what they perceived as the union position on non-traditional casting.
In response, AEA posted the following statement on its website and twitter page March 31:
To Our Members:
Yesterday we published a tweet that made many of you angry. We’ve been monitoring the conversation all night, and we now regret that the message was worded in that way. We at Actors’ Equity are fully committed to diversity, inclusion, equal employment opportunity and universal access to auditions for all of our members. The conversation about Hamilton actually began on Tuesday, when Equity was contacted by a reporter from CBS News. When challenged about the legality of a casting notice on the show’s website, a spokesperson for Hamilton told the press that Equity had approved the language. We responded that we had not approved the casting language, nor had we been consulted about it.
Casting notices do say (and have said) that a character is Caucasian (Bright Star), a child (Matilda), African American (The Color Purple), “non-white” (Hamilton), etc., because this reflects authorial intent. Excluding an actor from auditions based on sex, race, color, creed, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, political persuasion or belief not only conflicts with our firm policy of advocating for equal employment opportunity, but also could raise legal questions.
The real issue here is not a single casting notice, or a reporter trying to create a story. The real issue is that in 2016, there are still far too few roles for non-Caucasian actors. In that respect, of course, Hamilton has been groundbreaking, and we hope that the true and exciting diversity on display at the Richard Rodgers inspires casting directors and creative teams throughout the industry.
We will continue to fight for our members of color. We know that you have changed the minds of authors, directors, and choreographers even when the casting notice has said that the character was Caucasian. Equal Employment Opportunity gives you the power to change minds.
In addition, we are pleased to share that we’ve been meeting with Christine Toy Johnson, National Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee, and together we have started the process of organizing meetings with members of color to ask a simple question: How can we do more to help you?
We’re glad to be having this conversation. It’s long overdue.
Kate Shindle, President
Mary McColl, Executive Director
Actors’ Equity Association