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Casting Controversy Shadows La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘Nightingale’

GUESTS

Christopher Ashley, artistic director at La Jolla Playhouse.

Greg Watanabe, Asian-American actor.

Transcript

"The Nightingale" may be set in ancient China, but you won't see many Asians in the cast. In fact, the emperor in the play's ancient Chinese setting is white.

The musical, which has a multiracial cast and is based on a Hans Christian Anderson fable, is currently on stage at the La Jolla Playhouse.

The casting has angered some in the theater community and, as you might expect, Asian-Americans. Critics have taken to the blogosphere and social media in recent weeks, saying the casting choices are part of a long history of racial insensitivity and tone deafness on the part of the entertainment industry.

The creators (the composing team behind the Tony-winning "Spring Awakening") recently explained their casting decisions to U-T theater critic Jim Hebert:

"On the subject of casting, I have to say, we had a workshop that was fully Asian, and it’s not appropriate to the piece (we've written). It's not about Asia. What’s really important to the piece is to have completely color-blind casting. Completely multicultural. Which is what we have. We have an African-American mother of a white son in our show now. Our cast is not even predominantly white. It’s a mix."

"The Nightingale" is still in development, as part of the La Jolla Playhouse's Page to Stage program.

KPBS Midday Edition will talk about the casting controversy with Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley and Asian-American actor Greg Watanabe, who was last seen on San Diego stages in Mo'olelo's production of "How I Got That Story."

The La Jolla Playhouse will hold a community forum to discuss this issue on Sunday, July 22, after the 2 pm matinee performance of "The Nightingale.

We'd love to hear your thoughts.

Should Asians and Asian-American actors have been cast in a play set in China? Should the creators have artistic license to cast whomever they want based on their creative vision?

As an audience member, is storytelling more powerful for you if the cast members are authentic to the story? Or do you want to see more "blind casting" in theater as a way to enhance the story?

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