The topic of advocacy, representation, and equity has always been a crucial topic, but in the most recent years, it has taken the performing arts world by storm. I believe that it is the duty of individuals in theater to be true allies and advocates for the rightful representation of characters in productions. Particularly this past year, I have reflected a lot on this topic and how I can be a better advocate and ally for others and myself.
When given the opportunity to try out for a production, actors are often willing to audition to grow their resumes and to get more exposure. There are also situations where certain actors will be assigned to scenes or productions that have a plot surrounding people and the lives of underrepresented communities (such as people of color or those in the LGBTQ+ community), while they themselves may not identify within those groups. This is where it gets complicated. Some actors would rather perform than choose not to be a part of the show or play a character that they don’t identify with. In contrast, others might make the decision to not audition or bring up the situation to the directors. As an actor, I can understand that when there is an opportunity to be a part of a production that you should take it, but when there are productions and characters that are written about an individual with a specific identity or background, it is and should be the duty of the actors to not participate. There has been a long history of white actors playing roles for people of color or those who play roles that identify within the LGBTQ+ community but are not played by such. I believe that this needs to change.
Being an ally and/or advocate comes in different forms. Certain people may feel more comfortable speaking up, others may prefer to assist in creating action plans. There are various ways to be an ally and advocate for an unrepresented community. I believe that if an actor is in the situation where they have been cast to play a role that has a specific identity which they do not connect with, they should speak up whether that is to the director, cast, or stage manager. Denying the role and knowing that there will be other opportunities to play other great roles is another option. One simply cannot say they are an ally or advocate for a community when they are partaking in scenes or productions that play into racial stereotypes and microaggressions or are playing roles within an underrepresented community. Situations like such further limit and isolate these groups to opportunities that should be granted to them.
If there is going to change, this is one of the many ways to do so. Silencing yourself is being on the side of the oppressor. Be a true ally.