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A White Man Went To ‘The Mountaintop’ At Kent State

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Yes. We are now living in a time where colorblind casting can go both ways– or not. Last month Kent State (located in Ohio, of the top theatre and dance schools of the state) Department of Pan-African Studies’ African Community Theatre put on a production of Katori Hall‘s The Mountaintop. If you recall, The Mountaintop  is a fictional depiction of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s last night on earth set entirely in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN on the eve of his assassination on April 4, 1968. In the show there are two main characters: Martin Luther King Jr. and the hotel maid, both suggested and implicitly meant for black actors/actresses (On Broadway Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett took on those roles). Kent State decided on a different approach.

Director Michael Oatman re-imagined the hit  play by double-casting the role with both a White and Black “Martin Luther King Jr.”  Yes, a White “Martin Luther King Jr.” During an interview with Kent State on the University’s website he talks about the motivation behind such a decision:

While Oatman understands that the piece may stir some controversy he also hopes that it stirs discussion about America’s original sin: race.  “I truly wanted to explore the issue of racial ownership and authenticity.  I didn’t want this to be a stunt, but a true exploration of King’s wish that we all be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin,” said Oatman about his non-traditional cast.  “I wanted the contrast . . . I wanted to see how the words rang differently or indeed the same, coming from two different actors, with two different racial backgrounds.”

Is this even allowed? Technically, yes. The script at the time never explicitly stated that the actor playing Martin Luther King Jr. has to be black (they have updated it since then), however implicitly it makes total sense. Everything Dr. King stood for was making America value the Black body because he was, too, a Black body. I don’t see how casting a White actor to play an historic figure such as Martin Luther King, Jr. was a good idea. The show was brought to Katori Hall via Twitter and she went on to say this;

Now I get we are at the point in time where Hamilton exists, that show in particular casting people of color in roles that would otherwise have been for traditionally White actors. As great of a move as that was, it does, unfortunately, open the floodgates for very narrow-minded people to think that roles meant for people of color can now be played by White actors if traditionally (and/or historically) White characters can be played by actors of color. This argument and reasoning however isn’t valid. The reason shows like Hamilton and The Mountaintop exist is to create those opportunities for actors of color that have been short sided by this business- to even the playing field. Not to give White actors even more opportunities. That literally defeats the purpose. It defeats what African-American and other playwrights of color have been trying to do for years.Kent Mountaintop

There is a lesson to take away from the Kent State casting though, even though at times it’s obvious, playwrights should include explicitly the ethnicities of actors they want in their plays. This is something I expect to see a lot more as African-Americans are making their unstoppable reign on and off Broadway this season, and we want to keep it that way.

Sound off in the comments below on your thoughts!

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. quietriot

    November 11, 2015 at 4:09 PM

    i believe the director, Michael Oatman, is also black. Doesn’t this change the narrative?

  2. Pingback: Be Apart of the Revolution! Hamilton Posts Open Casting Call

  3. Pingback: Aja Naomi King To Read The Mountaintop In LA

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It’s A Snoopsical! Snoop Dogg Joined by Tamar Braxton for Redemption of A Dogg Musical Stageplay

Broadway Black

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Yes, You read that right. Snoop Dogg will make his theatrical debut in a new stage play titled Redemption of a Dogg also starring R&B superstar Tamar Braxton. Teaming up with the same producer who brought us Set It Off Live!Je’Caryous Johnson, the play will begin touring in October starting in Houston, TX.

Johnson also serves as writer and director for the production, described as the chronicles of  “a character built around the persona of Snoop Dogg – a multi-faceted character who is a gangsta rapper, family man and man of God.”

The stage play is said to ‘examine the internal battle one man has between preserving his life-long legacy and losing the love of his life when he is faced with choosing fame and fortune over faith and family.”

“Redemption of a Dogg is set against a backdrop of Snoop Dogg’s greatest hits, as well as, songs from his recently released chart-topping Gospel album, Bible Of Love.” according to the press release.

 “Please believe you’ve never seen urban theatre like this! With my flavor and his (Je’Caryous Johnson) expertise, we’re gonna bring the people an unmissable show. I can’t wait for everyone out there to see it!”  — Snoop Dogg

 

FALL 2018 REDEMPTION OF A DOGG TOUR DATES:

October 5-7                          Houston, TX                    Hobby Center

October 11                           Newark, NJ                     NJPAC

October 12-13                      Philadelphia, PA             Tower Theater

October 14                           Brooklyn, NY                  Kings Theatre

October 19                           St. Louis, MO                  Stifel Theatre

October 20-21                      Chicago, IL                     Arie Crown

October 25-27                      Detroit, MI                      Music Hall

October 28                           Cleveland, OH                 KeyBank State Theatre

November 2                         Atlanta, GA                      Fox Theatre

November 8                         Norfolk, VA                       Chrysler Hall

November 9-11                    Washington, DC               Warner Theatre

November 16                       Los Angeles, CA                Microsoft Theater

November 17                       Long Beach, CA                  Terrace Theater

November 18                       Oakland, CA                       Paramount Theatre

*Dates Subject to Change Without Notice and More Cities To Be Added

For more info go to www.jecaryous.com

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Award Season '18

Tony! Toni! Toné! Awards 2018 Presenters and Performances

Broadway Black

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It’s time Y’all, for the 2018 Tony Awards. This Sunday. Go to church. Grab a plate from your grandma or play-cousins house and get comfy!

Some of the performances we are looking ready for include the wig snatch that is Caissie Levy! Bruce Springsteen, who is also going to rock the stage! EVERYTHING that is Once On This Island! While we too are secretly hoping for that Yolanda Adams bop from Spongebob The Musical to be performed, we know whatever Tina Landau and her aquatic squad bring to the Radio City Stage is sure to help us get through the inevitable Tony recovery week that looms head on Monday.

 

New musicals nominated include: “The Bands Visit,” “Mean Girls,” “Frozen,” and “Spongebob Squarepants The Musical,” each nominated for Best New Musical. Adding to that list,  “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” which brings along two performance nominations.

 

This season of musical revivals includes “Carousel”, “Once On This Island”, and “My Fair Lady”. 

Once on This Island
Photo: Joan Marcus

Plays nominated this season, new and revived, include: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, “The Children”, “Farinelli And The King”, “Junk”, “Latin History for Morons, Angels In America”, “Three Tall Women”, “The Iceman Cometh”, “Lobby Hero”, “Travesties”, and Saint Joan’s Condola Rashad.

 

Some of the presenters include Bernadette Peters, Brandon Victor DixonKerry Washington, Titus Burgess, and Viola Davis (not really. But if we say her name in the mirror three times, she’ll appear right?)

 Who else is set to appear? Glad you asked. You’ll see the familiar faces of Uzo Aduba, Leslie Odom Jr., James Monroe Iglehart, Christopher Jackson, and more!

So tune in to CBS June 10th, Sunday at 8 pm eastern time to catch all the fantastic performances and see who gets to turn from Tony Award Nominee to Tony Award winner!

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