Fairview: The Two Sides of Color-Conscious Casting

March 9, 2023

When Millikin puts on shows about race, the casting pool is limited. Some students of color in the School of Theatre and Dance can feel constrained to these shows  — but by embracing the material, these students bring to life roles only they can provide.

This weekend, Millikin will be putting on “Fairview,” a 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning play written by black playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury. The show’s initial selection sparked concern from some students. Because the School of Theatre and Dance does not have a large population of minority students, actors sometimes feel limited to those roles before they even enter the audition room.

“When we do shows that require those ethnicities, it becomes almost like we have to because there’s no one else,” said Gavin King, a senior acting major in “Fairview.” 

Prior to auditions, King described how he and other Black students already knew what to expect. “We joked about it, like, we know they need a leading Black male, and there’s only two of us,” he said. 

Nevertheless, King described his experience in “Fairview” as an exciting opportunity to perform a work of art written by a Black woman. He especially enjoys the play’s aspects of dark comedy and subversion. 

“It’s a wonderful journey that the audience will take and being part of the process of creating that journey has been so rewarding,” King said.

Assistant Professor of Theatre Tony Morton is directing “Fairview.” He believes the whole cast is dedicated and enthusiastic about bringing the play to life. Rather than feeling concerned about only being cast in shows about race, Morton said students should look at these plays as chances to tell their stories.

“As a Black actor who never got to play a Black character in all of my undergrad, I think they’re missing the opportunity that’s laid out in front of them to actually play a character that looks like them,” Morton said.

Morton emphasized that in professional theater, actors rarely get a say in which roles they play. 

“When you walk into an audition hall, you’re at the mercy of the people doing the casting,” he said. “If you don’t audition for and submit to as much as you can, your opportunities at work will shrink.”

Some students in SOTAD have also expressed a desire to do plays about people of color without race and racial issues being the focus. Morton said this doesn’t reflect our actual world.

“We’re in a country where it’s always about race, even when it’s not about race,” he said. 

“Fairview” highlights this societal tension, as Black people in the play are observed for spectacle.

“When I walk in a room, there’s a large number of people that just see a Black man has walked in the room, and not a person has walked in the room,” Morton said.

Senior acting major Raeven Carroll also emphasized the importance of telling stories like “Fairview.” The play’s unique approach to interrogating bigotry and appropriation makes its message especially relevant.

“We still experience these injustices, these stereotypes and these different narratives continuously to this day,” Carroll said.

Millikin’s efforts to highlight more stories from people of color has brought positive representation to SOTAD. Finding a balance in the season selection has been essential to preserving acting opportunities for the student body. 

“What definitely helps is making sure to have diversity when it comes to casting in other productions as well,” Carroll said. “Like what they’re doing with ‘Into the Woods,’ Millikin should continue to try to diversify and cast in an unorthodox way.”

“Fairview” challenges audiences and makes people uncomfortable — but this is part of what makes the show so important.

“When you come see the show, just give it a chance,” Carroll said, “Because when you watch it as a whole you’ll fully understand the message in such a unique way that it will definitely stick with you.”

Fairview runs from March 9-12 in Virginia Rogers Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at the box office.

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