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Face Values

You don’t find Broadway’s producers, theater owners, unions and guilds agreeing on much of anything, much less a policy statement in these “get mine” times. But that’s just what has happened, and it concerns one of the industry’s most sensitive subjects, nontraditional casting.

It’s a touchy issue because unions want to promote employment for all of their members, while producers insist on protecting their right to cast (and otherwise hire) whoever they feel will be best for the job. The memory of Cameron Mackintosh’s threat to scuttle the Broadway production of “Miss Saigon” over exactly this issue five years ago remains as fresh as if it had happened yesterday.

Nevertheless, after years of wrangling over the issue, four unions and the Broadway trade group, the League of American Theaters and Producers, have developed a position paper “endorsing the goals of diversity, inclusion and principles of equal opportunity for all who work in the theater industry and condemn racism, prejudice, discrimination and exclusion in the theater.”

“While we recognize that there can be no interference with the artistic integrity or contractual rights of the author, director or choreographer, we urge all members of the theater community to challenge traditional stereotypes.”

The “document of principle” was promulgated by a committee whose members came from Actors’ Equity, the Casting Society of America, the Dramatists Guild, and the Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers. But it represents a special triumph for Sharon Jensen, executive director of the Equity-based Non-Traditional Casting Project.

“I think it serves as a kind of North Star,” Jensen says of the document.

“Implementation is a key,” she admits, adding that “here is a commitment to continue to work together on these issues.”

How soon the joint effort will yield tangible results in the way of employment is, of course, anybody’s guess. Still, that this diverse group could agree on what some see as a civil rights issue and others see as infringement is nothing short of amazing.

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