Music Theatre Bristol, a student theatre company operating in the U.K., has canceled its planned production of Disney’s Tony Award-winning musical Aida due to outry over cultural appropriation and concern that the show’s casting conceits would whitewash the production.
Planned as MTB’s spring 2017 production, Aida was selected as part of the season by the student members of MTB, however, several students and community members raised concerns that the play set in ancient Egypt—and the casting of white performers in Nubian and Egyptian roles—was cultural appropriation.
Executives at MTB confirmed to Playbill.com that the troupe had produced West Side Story last season and that “no concerns were raised over our production of West Side Story and it was not cast culturally appropriately.” The Broadway classic, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, is set against racial tensions between Puerto Ricans and Anglo-Americans.
The Broadway production, which won the Tony Award for Best Original Score, featured Heather Headley as the titular Nubian princes, with Sherie Rene Scott as Egyptian princess Amneris and Adam Pascal as Radames.
Playbill.com reached out to Music Theatre Bristol, and received the following statement regarding the cancellation.
“Following extensive concerns raised to the society by various students and societies which we have taken greatly into consideration, we have decided that it is to the benefit of all parties involved to remove the show from the society’s calendar.
“The central issue surrounded the portrayal of Egyptian and Nubian people on stage. Whilst we ourselves are a small society, there were nevertheless fears that the play itself would be overwhelmingly cast Caucasian, and would subsequently be both culturally appropriative and racially offensive.
“Whilst whitewashing is a prevalent issue in the wider theatre industry and one that certainly needs attention, we as a small university society naturally lack the resources and casting opportunities afforded to professional productions. We absolutely welcome greater racial diversity in our society and hoped this show would encourage racial diversity, but we cannot control people’s interest in musical theatre.
“Our function as a university society is to provide enjoyable performance opportunities for all of our members. Thus we believe that as these discussions of racial and cultural appropriation may have continued throughout the year, this would detract greatly from the enjoyment of all students involved in the show, this being our primary societal focus.
“As a society we would like to express our surprise at the unprecedented level of what we believe to be inaccurate media attention. There have been extensive inaccuracies and false truths circulating throughout the press; from confusing the musical Aida with Verdi’s opera, to accusing the society of censorship and racism. We as a society have made this decision after much consideration and always with the best intention for our members in mind – we very much wish to continue with providing societal members an extremely enjoyable year of opportunities and to move on from such, now resolved, controversy.”