Broadway's New West Side Story Releases Statement Regarding Casting Controversy

Broadway News   Broadway's New West Side Story Releases Statement Regarding Casting Controversy
 
The new revival has come under fire for casting New York City Ballet performer Amar Ramasar.
Broadway_Marquee_August_2019_HR
West Side Story at the Broadway Theatre Marc J. Franklin

As protests of cast member Amar Ramasar continue outside the new revival of West Side Story ahead of its February 20 opening, the production has released a statement in support of Ramasar.

A principal dancer at New York City Ballet, Ramasar plays Bernardo in the contemporary staging from director Ivo van Hove. His casting was announced in July, three months after arbitration found that New York City Ballet had overstepped in dismissing Ramasar and fellow New York City Ballet dancer Zachary Catazaro following an investigation into sexual harassment allegations. Catazaro declined to rejoin, though Ramasar is back on NYCB's roster after receiving mandatory counseling.

Read the statement in full below:

"The management of West Side Story stands, as it always has stood, with Amar Ramasar. While we support the right of assembly enjoyed by the protestors, the alleged incident took place in a different workplace --- the New York City Ballet --- which has no affiliation of any kind with West Side Story, and the dispute in question has been both fully adjudicated and definitively concluded according to the specific rules of that workplace, as mandated by the union that represents the parties involved in that incident. Mr. Ramasar is a principal dancer in good standing at the New York City Ballet. He is also a member in good standing of both AGMA (representing the company of NYCB) and Actors’ Equity Association (representing the company of West Side Story).

"There is zero consideration being given to his potentially being terminated from this workplace, as there has been no transgression of any kind, ever, in this workplace. The West Side Story Company does not as a practice terminate employees without cause. There is no cause here. The West Side Story Company’s relationship to Mr. Ramasar is completely private to that company and exists solely between Mr. Ramasar and his fellow company members. He is a valued colleague who was hired to play a principal role in this production, which he is doing brilliantly, and which he will continue to do for the entire unabated length of his agreement.”

The first protest took place January 24, with more scheduled for February 13 and February 20. Additionally, an online petition calling for Ramasar's dismissal, created by college student Megan Rabin (Ms. Rabin has no known affiliation with the companies or parties involved), has amassed over 25,000 signatures since December.

Ramasar was formally dismissed from NYCB in September 2018 after dancer Alexandra Waterbury filed a lawsuit against the company and her former boyfriend, Chase Finlay (another principal dancer who had since resigned). The suit alleged that Finlay, along with Ramasar and Catazaro, exchanged explicit photos of female dancers without their knowledge and consent. The firing was challenged by the American Guild of Musical Artists. The resulting arbitration ended in Ramasar's reinstatement. Waterbury has voiced her support of the protests on social media.

Ramasar was a cast member in the Broadway revival of Carousel at the time of his dismissal from NYCB. “Throughout that legal process, Amar received the full support of Actors' Equity Association, and he is currently a member in good standing of the union,” Rick Miramontez, President of DKC/O&M and spokesperson for West Side Story, said in an earlier statement. “We are aligned with Actors' Equity in its support of Amar’s employment eligibility and his appearance in our production of West Side Story.”

In a statement, Actors' Equity said, “As is customary, Actors’ Equity had no awareness of casting decisions for West Side Story before the cast was publicly announced. Equity did not communicate ‘support’ to the employer about any members of the company as part of the hiring process. Equity’s role is to ensure that all members know they have a right to a safe and harassment-free workplace and that Equity will hold employers to their legal obligation to maintain a safe and harassment-free environment. That is why Equity has also launched a hotline that members can use to report harassment or unsafe working conditions confidentially.” The hotline number is 833-550-0030.

Despite the casting controversy—and sizable cuts and alterations to the material—the production has consistently played to 100 percent capacity and has grossed over 90 percent of its potential.

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