On Sept. 24, Associate Professor of Theater Brian Herrera lectured on the importance of actors staying true to their values despite problems with identity preferences in the the world of casting. The talk was held at 4:30 p.m. in the Wallace Theater in the Lewis Arts Complex.
Titled “A Conversation About the History of Casting,” the event focused on encouraging discourse about contemporary casting practices and controversies surrounding race, gender, and sexuality in modern theater.
The talk was open to anyone but was mandatory for theater certificate students.
Both a scholar and an artist, Herrera has been working on a book about the history of casting after having noticed a lack of scholarly material on the subject.
By his admission, the process has been challenging.
“I realized as I began to write that my feelings were quite strong,” Herrera said. “Every time I wrote I felt as though I was standing outside in my underpants screaming at the sky ‘this is wrong!’”
Herrera has been hosting this conversation at universities across the United States, including Yale University, in the hope of fostering discourse and giving actors and directors advice on how to deal with the power dynamics of casting directors.
“When we’re talking about the history of casting, we’re always talking about the history of power,” Herrera said.
Herrera said casting directors and agencies wield lots of power over not only who stars in productions, but also the “agency” that actors have in professional unions.
Herrera also lectured on the legal ambiguity surrounding job openings that require or exclude specific ethnicities or genders. He said that important moral questions might be ignored when casting decisions have to be made in short period of time.
Theater students who spoke to the The Daily Princetonian said Herrera’s talk thoroughly complicated the way they think about their work.
“I love doing theater so much that studying theater sometimes makes me worry that it’s going take the fun out of it,” said Katie Massie ’21. “But Professor Herrera does an excellent job highlighting how it’s important to study the art that you do.”
“I was really interested in what Brian had to say about expediency [in casting],” Haydon John ’21 said. “It’s a problem that I have encountered a lot, but I could never pinpoint what the problem was.”
Herrera finished by calling on everyone to stick by their values in times of difficulties with the casting process, despite the possibility of failure.