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Minority report

Local theater companies struggle to find a pool of diverse racial groups for roles in some plays.

Mark Beutler March 19th, 2014

Casting someone like Carrie Underwood in a production of Dreamgirls, which features a mostly black cast, would probably be a bit of a stretch. But when it comes to the theater community, especially in Oklahoma City, finding a racially diverse pool of talent for certain shows is difficult, according to local casting directors. Whether looking for an actor who is black, Asian or Hispanic, casting directors said Oklahoma City just doesn’t have enough actors to fill certain roles.

“It really is tricky,” said Jerome Stevenson, artistic director for The Pollard Theatre. “At times, it can be really easy to cast a show, and at other times, it can be excruciating.

“In my case, there are a few middle-aged men of color who sing and move, myself included. But there are not as many younger [black] men with any real experience, so it really is difficult at times.”

And that limited pool of local talent also plays a factor in determining the shows that actually make it to the stage.

“Oklahoma City is certainly not as diverse as Dallas or Chicago,” Stevenson said. “It’s a bit of a Catch 22. Sometimes, we can’t often afford to take on the risk of producing shows that feature minorities without a larger pool of minority performers to pull from.”

Like the Pollard, Oklahoma City’s Jewel Box Theatre has had a similar problem when casting certain shows.

“I don’t know why some races do not audition,” said artistic director Chuck Tweed. “For Jewel Box, it is very difficult. When we were going to do Dreamgirls, we were the first community theater in Oklahoma to get the rights. I called schools, colleges and universities, clubs, churches, etc. I had never worked so hard to promote a show.”

The same has held true for Don Jordan, founding artistic director at Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, a nationally recognized professional theater company.

“If we have a production that calls for a certain minority or race, I try to plan ahead for such a contingency and will often have several possibilities in mind who could do the role, located either locally, regionally or on the national scene,” he said. “And I also actively seek those different options well in advance. Planning ahead is critical to helping give a play its best chance for success.”

The bottom line, according to Stevenson, Tweed and Jordan, is for minorities to simply show up and audition.

“Call us, ask questions, read the script,” Tweed said. “But to get a role, you have to show up. And you have to mention our theater as giving you your big break when you win your first Tony or Oscar.”

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