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3 members of North Texas’ theater community on how auditions can be more inclusive

Actors enter the room before auditions.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Actors enter the room before an audition at a North Texas theater.

When audiences see their favorite actors on stage and on screen, it’s easy to forget that these stars often have to endure a long, complicated process: auditions.

Auditions are the first step to achieving diversity in the performing arts, but it’s a process that’s not well understood. For actors from marginalized communities, auditions can often be situations where they face typecasting, bias and discrimination.

That’s why we talked about how to make auditions more inclusive with two North Texas actors and a director in an Instagram live discussion on June 26.

We spoke to actor, director, choreographer and teacher Monalisa Amidar, founding artistic director of Amphibian Stage Kathleen Culebro and Equity performer Christine Sanders.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

I'd love to hear from our actors, what in the past has made you feel comfortable in the actual audition room once you're there? What can theaters do to make these environments warm and welcoming to folks from marginalized backgrounds?

Christine Sanders: If there is an issue with a member, talk to them about it. Don't just assume you understand what is happening, especially when it comes to any non-straight, non-European members of your production because there are ingrained, historical biases towards these groups.

So the key thing is, making it inclusive, and working against any known or unknown biases. Basically just talk to people.

Monalisa Amidar: [There’s a] vast difference in walking into the lobby area or the waiting area and seeing another artist of color work at the front – just your first person-to-person interaction makes a big difference. I'm so used to walking into primarily white or Eurocentric spaces as a Filipino American actor.

I know that the theaters are trying to hire artists of color or staff members of different backgrounds. But just know that if you already do that, it does make a big difference. When I walk into the space, it sets the tone right away. And then just for those huge auditions, that's the same thing: What does your panel look like? When we look out into the audience, what does the casting team look like? That makes a big difference whether we say anything about it or not.

People have said there needs to be more diverse leaders who are directing, producing, writing. I'm curious, what are the barriers to making that happen?

Sanders: People are creating art in a very quick amount of time. Like you're getting at most a month to rehearse and then a month to put on the show and get everything out. A lot of times people end up working with who they already know. So the issue then becomes, who do you choose to keep in your social circle? Who do you keep in your creative circle? If everybody you keep in your creative circle mostly looks like you, lives like you, loves like you, you're not going to get very many different points of view.

There have been other directors who have come to me, and been like, “What do I do?” The thing that I've generally told them is to reach out to people outside of your social circle.

Kathleen Culebro: I'd like to add, yes, 100%. Thank you for all of that. What I see is it goes farther back. So I think everyone will agree that schools are very different and the theater departments starting in high school are very different. Those kids are getting very different experiences, very different opportunities.

What do we as artistic leaders need to do? We need to go into those schools and start showing them or offering them opportunities, offering them workshops, offering them whatever.

Because in those schools, it's one teacher who is the set designer, the director, the teacher, the costume designer, all the things. So we need to go in and support those teachers, and we need to also bring in theater artists of color to show them that they can be safe, because that's the number one question.

It's very obvious to a lot of folks, particularly after the pandemic, that theaters are trying to do more with less. So how do you guys think about that tension between, yes, acknowledging the real resource constraints, but also wanting to create change and do what you can with what you have?

Culebro: I think that a season that is based on ticket sales is probably not going to reflect an invitation to change. And it's tricky. That's easy for me to say. I certainly don't want to judge a company for just trying to sell tickets.

But I do think that you can't go into a season and expect to fix it in a day and to create those relationships in a day.

So we ourselves are going to die if we expect to fix things overnight and expect that the change is going to come immediately and don't have the patience to build those relationships.

Sanders: Thank you so much, Kathleen, for sharing all of that. I think a lot of it has to do with how you invite in your audience, how you make the work accessible to the audience. Also, what the audience sees. Because there was one theater, I saw a production, and it was one that doesn't have a whole lot of people of color on stage. 

When they did have people of color on stage, they always managed to be in like servant roles. There was just one particular way that they did their costumes and whatnot, that it was a fairly problematic image. I was looking around the audience. I was like, oh, I'm one of maybe two Black people in this audience. If I come to see your show and this is what I see, it's letting me know consciously or subconsciously or unconsciously, your shows are not for me.

Why should people care about making auditions equitable? 

Amidar: Accessibility is key. Who you are making your art or your work accessible to is key to sustainability. So if you want to stick around, if you want your institution to be able to sustain and continue to grow, then there's no other way but to be as inclusive as you possibly can.

Arts Access is an arts journalism collaboration powered by The Dallas Morning News and KERA.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, The University of Texas at Dallas, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.