It’s been a year since Lincolnshire’s Marriott Theatre came under fire for its casting a majority of non-Latinx actors in its production of Evita, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical about the rise of Argentine figurehead Eva Peron. The casting—which eventually led the theatre to expand its outreach and engage more actors of different ethnicities—prompted several members of the theatre community to speak out against whitewashing and authentic casting practices.
New York-based actor and activist Lauren Villegas, who spoke to Playbill.com about the Marriott casting and last year's Latinx representation onstage, has launched Project Am I Right.
Project Am I Right seeks to raise awareness within the acting community by asking actors to consider whether they are right for the roles they’re auditioning for. “Before you go to an audition, before you accept a callback, before you sign a contract, take a minute to ask yourself: Am I Right,” reads the project’s mission statement.
Villegas is currently working with leadership at Actors' Equity Association and the Actors' Equity Foundation to help educate actors on how to be good allies, and the power they have to end whitewashing. When a casting controversy arises—like last year’s Prince of Egypt concert and its subsequent cancellation—Villegas works within AEA’s membership to discuss the issues at hand and move the conversation forward.
Project Am I Right will host its first public event in New York this summer: an evening of cabaret performances by actors of color titled My Whitelist. “The concert will work to illustrate the reality faced by actors of color and help their white colleagues understand the importance of choosing not to engage in whitewashing the limited number of roles written for them,” Villegas tells Playbill.com. “It might also help producers see that some of the roles on my whitelist don’t necessarily need to be portrayed by white actors after all.” A venue and date will be announced soon.
Project Am I Right may still be in its early stages, but Villegas has already received positive feedback from fellow actors and artistic leaders.
“One of my biggest victories was a message I received from a white actor who reached out to tell me that after seeing my posts and reading some of my writing he was going to take the Latinx roles off his resume and stop actively pursuing roles written for people of color,” she says. “Any time I help an actor to think a little more critically about the ethics of the choices they make in their career, I consider my work to be a success.”
The initiative doesn’t solely focus on the actor’s responsibility in increasing diversity onstage, but also that of directors, artistic directors, producers, and casting directors. Villegas plans to reach out to the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and engage in a positive dialogue with its leadership about the upcoming production of Evita, in which Dee Roscioli has been tapped to play the title role.
Villegas is currently performing in the Off-Broadway hit Spamilton.