Phylicia Rashad is currently starring in the role of Violet Weston, the mother in August: Osage County, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play by Tracy Letts, now on stage at the Music Box Theater in New York City.
Felicia Lee writes in the New York Times article, “Mr. Richards said it was his idea to cast Ms. Rashad and that the playwright, Tracy Letts, and the director, Anna D. Shapiro, quickly agreed. There were no changes in the script to reflect Ms. Rashad’s race. And though she was picked foremost because of her talent, Mr. Richards said, she was also viewed as a Violet who could expand the play’s audience, especially of black theatergoers. (Some of the marketing has been geared to black audiences, with e-mail blasts and newsletters to churches and organizations like the New York Coalition of One Hundred Black Women.)”
The bulk of the article focuses on Rashad’s successful career, but also about whether casting an African American as the matriarch of the white stage family would change the play at all. The conclusion of the article is likely not, as Shakespeare has long been performed by “color-blind” casting.
But equally interesting to explore is the interrelationship between art and marketing, and the underlying marketing motivation that may have influenced a seemingly creative decision.
Do you think the changing the race of a main character in a play would make a difference in the interpretation of the play? If you do perceive a difference, does the performance fundamentally change, or is it the viewers interpretation that makes a difference? If not, why not? Is having an African-American actress in the lead role a motivator to diversify the audience?