Education

The Color of the Play

By Catherine Gewertz — June 07, 2005 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A private school near Baltimore won raves for its production this spring of a musical based on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But its race-blind casting has complicated its tale of success.

The Critics and Awards Program for High School Theater, better known as the Cappies, bestowed three top awards on Glenelg Country School’s “Big River.” The cast featured an African-American actor as Huck and a white actor as Jim, the runaway slave.

The Cappies sought permission for the two lead actors to sing “Muddy Waters,” a song from the show, on C-SPAN’s “Close Up” show May 20, and at a regional Cappies gala May 22.

But R&H Theatricals, the New York City-based company that represents the authors of “Big River,” would not allow the performances, citing the casting decision.

In a May 17 letter to the Cappies, an official of the licensing company said the casting “shows a willful disregard for the authors’ intentions.”

“The ethnicity of the characters of Huckleberry Finn and Jim can not be questioned,” said Charlie Scatamacchia, the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization’s director of professional licensing. “Huck is clearly a free white boy and Jim is clearly a black slave.”

The company later allowed the two students to sing the song at another Cappies gala, scheduled for June 5 in Washington, but only out of concern that the controversy was shortchanging the young actors, said R&H Theatricals spokesman Bert Fink.

The company has long supported colorblind casting, but “to ignore race in a story which is fundamentally about race undermines the purpose of the piece,” Mr. Fink said.

William Strauss, the Cappies’ national director, said the brouhaha bodes poorly for an increasingly diverse younger generation’s opportunities in theater.

“Casting strictly around original characters certainly narrows things down for students,” he said. “We certainly wouldn’t want to see any suggestion that ‘The Sound of Music’ would have to be cast all-Caucasian.”

For Carole Lehan, the Glenelg play’s director, casting decisions are not about race, but the best fit for the part.

Last year, she cast a Turkish Muslim student in the role of Jesus for “Godspell.” For “Big River,” she said, each lead actor’s size, style, and singing voice were great fits for his role.

“It was easy,” Ms. Lehan said. “Now, suddenly, it doesn’t seem as easy.”

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. f we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Gunman in 2018 Parkland School Massacre Pleads Guilty
A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
3 min read
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education Briefly Stated: October 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)