CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Harvard University's Hasty Pudding theater troupe, the nation's oldest collegiate theatrical organization, announced Thursday it will allow women to join its cast, starting next year.
Amira Weeks, the group's student president, made the announcement at the start of a comedic roast celebrating actor Mila Kunis, who was named the organization's Woman of the Year.
The 223-year-old group is known for comedic revues that feature men in drag playing female characters.
"The Hasty Pudding welcomes women to audition and to give equal opportunity to play those roles based on the quality of their individual talents," Weeks said, reading from a letter issued by the organization's governing board. "While we have great respect for the art form as it's been presented by the Pudding for over 170 years, the world is in a very different place. We are very proud to take this organization forward as a leader in women's rights and gender equality."
Students and alumni have been calling on the troupe to change its casting policy in recent years. Female students even have been auditioning for roles as a protest over the years, but none ever were cast. Some had called on Kunis to reconsider accepting the award over the exclusion.
The 34-year-old actress, who has spoken out against sexism in the entertainment industry before, said in brief remarks onstage that she was "honored" to have been part of the program during its "year of change."
Speaking with reporters afterward, Kunis noted that women are active in key behind-the-scenes roles at Hasty Pudding, including writing the shows, working on the technical crew and serving on the executive board, which is currently led by a woman and includes several other female members.
"Most of Hasty Pudding is women, they're just not on stage," she said. "This production has been forward thinking for many decades. It's not a male-driven organization. It just happens that historically that most of (the) performers on stage are men."
Kunis said the casting policy changes factored heavily into her decision to accept the honor.
"I wouldn't be here otherwise," she said. "It was something very important to me. This is something this program always wanted to do. It was something that was going to happen inevitably."
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a member of the storied troupe whose alumni include American presidents from John Adams to John F. Kennedy, had a succinct reaction when asked about the change by The Associated Press at an unrelated event. "It's about time," the Democrat exclaimed.
Earlier in the day, Kunis was paraded through Harvard Square by college students dressed in drag while a handful of protesters held signs calling out the troupe for not including women performers.
Later, Kunis gamely played along while the student-actors roasted her onstage before handing her the prize of the event: a golden pudding pot.
At one point Kunis inhaled helium from a balloon and attempted to hawk Jim Beam, the bourbon that she serves as a spokeswoman for, in a squeaky voice.
She took part in a dance off with an actor dressed like a black swan, a nod to her Golden Globe-nominated turn in 2010's "Black Swan."
And she tried out a Boston accent as she gave a reading from "The Fighter," a Massachusetts-based movie that starred Mark Wahlberg, her co-star in the comedy "Ted" and a Boston native.
"This is ridiculous," Kunis joked. "What is happening guys?"
Hasty Pudding has been naming a Woman of the Year since 1951.
Previous winners include Elizabeth Taylor, Lucille Ball and more recently, Anne Hathaway, Julianne Moore and Helen Mirren. Last year's winner was Octavia Spencer.
Paul Rudd has been named the group's 2018 Man of the Year. He'll be honored Feb. 2.
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