An Inspector Calls, for a different sort of casting

Schenectady Civic An Inspector Calls cast Angelique Powell

The cast of An Inspector Calls at Schenectady Civic Playhouse.

This weekend Schenectady Civic Playhouse is opening a production of An Inspector Calls. It's an English drama from 1945 that has a lot to say to US audiences in 2018, but this production will say it a bit differently.

The show, usually been produced with an all-white cast, has been cast entirely with actors of color.

It's an interesting move the director says amps up the message of the play -- and maybe in the process it will expand the way people think about casting roles here in the Capital Region.

An Inspector Calls is the story of a wealthy, factory-owning family celebrating the marriage of their daughter to the son of another factory owner. As they celebrate the merger of their families and businesses they learn that a young woman has taken her own life -- a woman with whom they have all had dealings.

Patrick WhiteThe message of the show, says director Patrick White (photo right), is that we are not alone. We are all responsible for each other. It's a message that, he believes, becomes more powerful when played entirely by actors of color.

White was slated to direct the show at Schenectady Civic before the 2017 election. After the election, his vision for the show began to change. The more he thought about it, the more he saw how it lends itself to colorblind casting.

"I didn't just want to be a production that spoke from the position of power," White said. "I wanted to bring other voices to the stage to be representative. You're giving African-American actors the opportunity to play the privileged class."

Angelique Powell plays the inspector, a role that is traditionally played not only by a white actor -- but by a man. Powell has become a familiar face in Capital Region theaters, but she knows knows how difficult it is for an actor of color to get cast in Capital Region theater.

"Oftentimes I'm discouraged by audition notices for more traditional shows because I have gotten myself caught up in this idea that casting directors don't necessarily look past my color," said Powell. "I looked at this season in local theaters and thought, 'Oh well, there is nothing for me,' until I ran into Patrick and he invited me to come and audition for this show."

Schenectady Civic An Inspector Calls cast dressing room

The casting challenge for actors of color is not, as Powell points out, something specific to the Capital Region.

"It's something you see everywhere otherwise you wouldn't see an #Oscarssowhite situation," Powell said. "I think it's just because it's always been done that way. I've never seen an audition notice that emphasized casting was going to be inclusive."

So she said seeing this production of An Inspector Calls come together has been incredibly moving.

"When they put the pictures up, our headshots, I wanted to cry seeing all of these people of color on stage," she said. "I was in Ragtime this summer, but it's written that those characters are supposed to be people of color. Having a director entrust us with doing a script that isn't specifically for black people is amazing."

"It's fun playing powerful black women because I am a powerful black woman -- but I'm also a mess. As a theater goer I would love to have more people who look like me, fall in love and have their heart broken, and be kind of a mess like I am, because I am not Olivia Pope."

Powell said one of the joys of this show, for her, is to break out of the stereotype she's often trapped in as a black actor.

"I'm often typecast in a very specific black female role. She doesn't have relationships, she doesn't fall in love, she doesn't get her heart broken or have children, she is not a person. It's just a caricature of a really strong person," she said. "We all can be really strong, but we all can be really broken and sometimes I think that when we don't see ourselves reflected as that we feel even worse for not being these people in our daily lives. It's amazing for us to see ourselves the way we actually are. It's fun playing powerful black women because I am a powerful black woman -- but I'm also a mess. As a theater goer I would love to have more people who look like me, fall in love and have their heart broken, and be kind of a mess like I am, because I am not Olivia Pope."

Both White and Powell are hoping the show makes people think and leads to change on any number of different levels.

"I 100-percent think it is a call to other companies to consider colorblind casting when they can," said Powell. "And I'm going to start showing up to auditions and give myself a chance. I'm not saying we have to break down every traditional show and make it all black. I think that's kind of fun to do sometimes, but I think it's a huge shake up to say, 'Well, maybe that character could have been black,' Or, 'Maybe Angelique was just the right person for the part so we are going to put her in there regardless of her ethnicity.'"

For White, he hopes it will open up opportunity and get people talking.

"I want to contribute, I want my work to answer what is going on. I want to be involved in the conversation," he said. "You only get to vote once a year. You get to go to rehearsal five nights a week if you're lucky."

Schenectady Civic's production of An Inspector Calls runs through February 4.

photos courtesy of Schenectady Civic Playhouse

Comments

Bravo to Patrick White and cast for taking a chance, making a statement, and giving us pause to think, talk and consider important stuff like this. Thank you Patrick. Your work is important and everybody should see it. The quality of this show is outstanding. The acting is unforgettable. We are fortunate to have you in our midst.

This sounds like a great production!

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