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Dispatches from Crackerville

A craigslist post by the San Diego Repertory Theatre is generating controversy online. An upcoming production of The Princess and the Black-Eyed Pea musical was seeking “AFRICAN AMERICAN singers, actors, dancers, and musicians” for what was described as “a soulful musical comedy set in the imaginary African kingdoms of Torel and Kheba.”

The point of contention among online respondents is the requirement that all participants – including the “seven musicians needed” – be African American. The play’s characters include King Kemo (“a hip poet with the rhymes to show it”), Queen Zauba (“the ultimate Queen Bee”), Rolin (“castle freeloader”), and a harmony girl-group featuring “Labelle,” “Latisha,” and “Lashaun.”

“I can understand wanting an all-African American cast,” posted one respondent (from “Cracker-ville”), “but the musicians too? Tell me how that’s NOT racist?!”

Also: “If a white person was doing that, refusing to hire anyone but white people, the play would never make it to opening day.”

“You cannot have it both ways…Do the right thing, and hire a diverse staff.”

“So qualifications, talent, and experience are secondary considerations, compared to skin color? Will white people be allowed to at least SEE this play?”

“Why do the musicians need to be black? Are you saying white musicians are not capable of playing the score? Or that the black performers and producers don’t want a bunch of white guys hanging around?”

One post sided with the Rep. “Black shows need black players. Screw PC…what’s next, Clay Aiken in the Wiz?”

At this writing, the San Diego Rep’s casting office had not replied to requests for comment.

– Jay Allen Sanford

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A craigslist post by the San Diego Repertory Theatre is generating controversy online. An upcoming production of The Princess and the Black-Eyed Pea musical was seeking “AFRICAN AMERICAN singers, actors, dancers, and musicians” for what was described as “a soulful musical comedy set in the imaginary African kingdoms of Torel and Kheba.”

The point of contention among online respondents is the requirement that all participants – including the “seven musicians needed” – be African American. The play’s characters include King Kemo (“a hip poet with the rhymes to show it”), Queen Zauba (“the ultimate Queen Bee”), Rolin (“castle freeloader”), and a harmony girl-group featuring “Labelle,” “Latisha,” and “Lashaun.”

“I can understand wanting an all-African American cast,” posted one respondent (from “Cracker-ville”), “but the musicians too? Tell me how that’s NOT racist?!”

Also: “If a white person was doing that, refusing to hire anyone but white people, the play would never make it to opening day.”

“You cannot have it both ways…Do the right thing, and hire a diverse staff.”

“So qualifications, talent, and experience are secondary considerations, compared to skin color? Will white people be allowed to at least SEE this play?”

“Why do the musicians need to be black? Are you saying white musicians are not capable of playing the score? Or that the black performers and producers don’t want a bunch of white guys hanging around?”

One post sided with the Rep. “Black shows need black players. Screw PC…what’s next, Clay Aiken in the Wiz?”

At this writing, the San Diego Rep’s casting office had not replied to requests for comment.

– Jay Allen Sanford

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Comments
5

Wow, this is interesting. Hm, I completely understand requesting an all black cast for the stage if the script calls for it. With theater and film I understand that roles are written a lot of the time for a certain type of person, whether that be their race, size, gender and so on. However, I totally agree with people wondering why an all black orchestra would be required. Those guys n' gals are in a pit anyhow, aren't they (or at least hidden somewhere)? If they're not characters in the actual play, why would it matter? I also agree that if a different musical or play came to town requesting only white musicians to apply for the orchestra, people would totally be up in arms (rightfully so). For a job anyone can do, there is no reason to discriminate against anyone due to race or gender. I hope they respond to this with the reason why this is the demand.

May 21, 2008

I've told everyone in my office area about this. They all agree it's insane to classify what "type" of person to hire for an orchestra position. Of the 9 people polled, 2 were hispanic, 1 was black (woman).

May 22, 2008

This is all too common - racism is OK as long as it is directed against whites. Why can't we understand we are all "people of color" of one shade or another (well maybe not albinos, but hey, don't discriminate against them for a simple genetic issue either) and stop all the ridiculous discriminatory acts such as this one. I'll go so far as to say even the primary performer positions should be open to all. I know I'd get slammed if I was producing some sort of performance or movie about white people - which, naturally, should star white people, right - and refused to hire minorities. But you know, I've noticed when a minority discriminates openly it's a celebrated act of "class struggle". It is almost funny. Almost. From crackerville? No, just from the real world, that's all. See, when "crackers" expect justice and fairness they get called names and such. No, I guess it's not even almost funny after all.

May 22, 2008

Hello,

I'm, Karole Foreman, the author of the Princess and the Black-Eyed Pea.

A friend of mine just forwarded me this email and at first I thought he was kidding. I said we only put out a call for African American actors and certainly not musicians. This is obviously a very bad and poorly managed misunderstanding. I had called the Rep a number of times to correct a number of mistakes they had made for this casting call & since I was leaving the casting of the musicians to my composer, it never occurred to me that they would make an additional call for only black musicians?? What the #@$&^$. That would be pretty lame.

It's too bad that this was (to me) an obviously gross error on the part of the Rep and not mine or my writing partner's intention.

It would be absolutely ludicrous for either of us to cast an "all black orchestra". Skin color has not bearing on how well you can play an instrument. I'm only embarrassed the the Rep did not respond to this egregious misrepresentation of our intention and I personally apologize to anyone who felt slighted by that posting.

Sincerely, Karole Foreman Author The Princess & The Black-Eyed Pea

July 8, 2008

Hello. My name is Andrew Chukerman and I'm the composer of "The Princess and the Black-Eyed Pea". Let me immediately clear up this unfortunate misunderstanding. There was and never has been a policy on the part of myself, my writing partner, nor the San Diego Repertory Theatre to exclusively seek African-American musicians, at anytime. I find the mere notion of it completely outrageous and contrary to my personal beliefs, especially considering I'm a fully Caucasian composer. It defies logic that I would discriminate against myself, after all. (And trust me. I do know first-hand how it feels to be discriminated against as a white musician.) So far as I know, the band will not necessarily even be visible to the audience, so this erroneous idea of the theatre racially determining the band members simply makes no sense, nor has it ever been the intention of any party connected to this project.

As it is, we have a six-piece band, hired entirely on the basis of talent and experience, comprised of a Caucasian music director/keyboardist, (who's been on board for months), as well as two other band member positions for which the final candidates also just happen to be of Caucasian and Latin descent. That's half of our band right there that is not African-American. Beyond that, as it happens our musician auditions and considerations included musicians representing an array of racial backgrounds, and was open to all comers. I was not aware of the wording of that Craig's List audition posting, but if it was listed as reported here, I can see how tagging "and musicians" onto the sentence in question was an unfortunate gross error in wording on the part of the theater.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Sanford's posting that qualifications, talent, and experience should never be secondary considerations to skin color. I further support Gregor's comment that we are all "people of color" of one shade or another. My writing partner has written and created a beautiful, uplifting, celebratory African-American fantasy, and the diversity contained therein, as evidenced from the project's writing team, creative team, designers, cast, and musicians. Sincerely, Andrew Chukerman, composer, "The Princess and the Black-Eyed Pea"

July 9, 2008

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