Lincolnshire's Marriott Theatre found itself in hot water this week regarding its casting of Evita, directed by Alex Sanchez and set to begin performances April 13. Chicago actor Bear Bellinger penned an open letter to the Marriott’s leadership condemning the fact that only one actor was of Latin heritage.
Set in South America throughout the 1930’s and 40’s, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical follows the rise of Eva Peron, the second wife of Argentine president Juan Perón. “You are situated outside of a city that is 28% Hispanic or Latina/o...,” stated Bellinger’s letter. “To not make an effort to reflect that portion of your city, in a show that is a representation of their culture, is shameful.”
Bellinger's letter prompted Marriott executive producer Terry James to issue a statement in response stating that the theatre was “deeply saddened“ by the remarks and that they were “false and slanderous.“ Both James and director Sanchez defended the casting of Evita by saying actors of color didn't show up to the EPA audition. Read the full statement here. Numerous members of the community stepped up in defense of Bellinger or reached out to the Marriott for more information, including A.B. Lugo, the associate director of HOLA, Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors.
“What steps were taken to ensure that there was diversity in talent that went to audition (specifically Latino performers)?“ HOLA inquired. James responded by saying the theatre holds open general calls for shows twice a year and outlined the ways in which these audition notices were promoted. Read Lugo and James' correspondence, published on Twitter, here.
While the Marriott points out that it holds open calls for non-AEA actors in addition to its EPA auditions, performer and activist Lauren Villegas highlights that these audition slots fill up within minutes. “Actors who are not AEA members are not guaranteed to be seen (and often are not seen) at those auditions,“ Villegas told Playbill.com. “So maybe there are Latin actors showing up and waiting around for a chance they never get.“
“Our AEA membership is only 2.9% self-identified Latino,“ continued Villegas. “Latinos are by far the most underrepresented minority group in our AEA membership. So just AEA auditions are not going to provide Latin actors with a chance to get in the room even if they 'show up.'“
In an attempt to continue the conversation in a more positive manner, the Marriott has launched an initiative that is aimed at tackling issues of diverse casting and inclusion.
“We are excited about the positive conversations and dialogue that have already begun. The Marriott Theatre has a history of producing ethnically diverse productions of musical theatre. And, of course, ethnically diverse productions and ethnically diverse casting are two separate and important issues,“ James told Playbill.com. “With our continuing partnership with Actors’ Equity Association, we look forward to expanding these efforts with the help of local organizations such as The Chicago Inclusion Project and representatives from the theatre community to make a bigger impact on both. These conversations will offer greater insight in tackling the issue of inclusion. We look forward to listening and to expanding our outreach in bringing actors of all ethnicities into the audition process which is key in opening up the greatest possibilities. We are excited to be an active participant in achieving these goals.“
The events in Lincolnshire bring to light recent controversies concerning the lack of diversity on major stages and movie screens. The 2016 Academy Awards nominations were heavily criticized for their failure to adequately recognize diverse artists in the acting categories, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage recently described theatre as “the last bastion of segregation.”