German Production of ‘Clybourne Park’ Halted After Playwright Bruce Norris Learns of White Actress Playing a Role in Blackface

clybourne-parkThough popular plays are produced all over the world, quality control is a major issue that can come up when a production wants to put their own stamp on the play.  Even if the production feels that those changes might be relatively minor, the authors of such works or their estates may not see it the same way to such a degree that they can prevent the production from going forward.  While nobody will go after you for changing Shakespeare — except for critics and audiences perhaps — to modern playwrights it is important that productions of their plays do not alter their work in a way they deem undesirable. 

Bruce Norris, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Clybourne Park, has put a stop to a German production of the play after learning that one of the lead black characters would be played by a white actor in makeup.  Since the play is chiefly about race relations, Norris was not happy about the Berlin theater’s insistence that the casting decision shouldn’t matter. 

In an open letter to Dramatists’ Guild of America about the controversy, Norris wrote, “After much evasion, justification and rationalizing of their reasons, they finally informed me that the color of the actress’s skin would ultimately be irrelevant, since they intended to ‘experiment with makeup’. At this point, I retracted the rights to the production.”  Blackface is considered an archaic, and to many offensive, technique in American and British theater of having white actors wear dark makeup to portray black characters.  The practice continues in other countries, particularly those with low populations of people of African descent.  In his letter Norris made it clear that it is a practice he does not approve of as he encouraged other playwrights “to boycott productions of your own work by German theatres that continue this asinine tradition.”

In a similar situation, the estate of Arthur Miller has forced an Australian theater to use the proper ending of Miller’s Death of a Salesman after finding out that the production has altered the means of Willie Loman’s suicide at the end of the play.  The production ran its entire first run with that alternate ending, but will now be switching back to the original.  Though the general manager of the production attributes the problem to “miscommunication,” it is clear that even after the playwright has passed his or her heirs feel obligated to ensure the production doesn’t stray from the source.

via The Guardian

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