Playwright: Race of some student actors sent wrong message

AP News
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Posted: Nov 14, 2015 7:27 PM

CLARION, Pa. (AP) — The playwright who barred a planned production of one of his works at a western Pennsylvania university due the race of some of the student actors said his decision reflected his belief that "people of color are not simply replaceable."

Three of the five characters in Lloyd Suh's play "Jesus in India" are Indian, but on Clarion University's mostly white campus, two of those characters were to be played by white students and a third was to be portrayed by a mixed-race student.

Suh, of New York City, said in a statement late Friday that he "could not allow the play to be performed by white actors in non-white roles before a public audience," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1WSOLt3 ) reported.

"The practice of using white actors to portray non-white characters has deep roots in ugly racist traditions," he wrote. "It sends a message, intended or not, that is exclusionary at best, dehumanizing at worst."

A mostly white cast playing Indians would be especially ill-timed at "a moment on multiple college campuses where racial tensions are undeniable and extremely dangerous," he said.

According to Suh's theater company's website, "Jesus in India" is a "contemporary parable" about Jesus' "wayward" journey to the East with a friend. There, they encounter "a spiritual haven full of Maharajas, punk rock and some really good weed."

Clarion University president Karen Whitney said only a few dozen of the school's 5,368 students are Asian and none auditioned for the play. She said officials had no desire "to engage with" the playwright "as he has made his position on race to our theater students crystal clear."

"I personally prefer to invest my energy into explaining to the student actors, stage crew and production team members why the hundreds of hours they committed to bringing 'Jesus in India' to our stage and community has been denied since they are the wrong skin color," she said.

The university statement also said the mixed-race performer who was to play one of the main characters "has experienced her fair share of discrimination" and "this hurts just as much as any other" discriminatory incident.

Suh said he had asked early on that "the general ethnicity of the characters" be honored. Bob Levy, chairman of the visual and performing arts department, said Suh pulled the university's right to stage the production after being told that finding replacements wasn't practical with the play set to open soon.

"The students are victims, and the timing of this mess has raised many questions," Suh wrote. "But the timing was never in my control."

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Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com