Playwright Bruce Norris pulls Clybourne Park rights after white actress playing black character row


Matilda Battersby
Friday 19 October 2012 10:49
Bruce Norris's Chicago-set 'Clybourne Park', with Lorna Brown
Bruce Norris's Chicago-set 'Clybourne Park', with Lorna Brown

Playwright Bruce Norris has stopped the Deutsches Theatre in Berlin from staging Clybourne Park after discovering that a black character was to be played by a white actress in make-up.

In an open letter to the Dramatists Guild, the US playwright wrote that after seeing a "terrific production" of the play at Staatstheatre Mainz in Germany he heard it was to be staged at the prestigious Deutsches venue.

He soon received "a disturbing email" from the black actress who played the part at Staatstheatre, saying the actress who had been cast in the same role at the theatre in Berlin was white.

"Disbelievingly, I contacted my agent who put me in touch with the management of Deutsches Theatre. Yes, they confirmed, it is true, we have cast a white ensemble member in this role, and we see no logical reason why we should cast an 'Afro-German'," Norris writes.

The management told Norris they intended to "experiment with make-up", at which point he retracted the rights to the production.

Clybourne Park, which received rave reviews at the Royal Court and Wyndham's Theatre two years ago and last year, is a portrait of a bigoted society.

The two-part staging showing the progression of a Chicago neighbourhood of increasing ethnic diversity. It was inspired by Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, and won a Tony and Olivier award earlier this year.

The play starts in 1959, when neighbours try to pressure a departing couple to pull out of selling to a black family. It then jumps to 2009, when the neighbourhood is predominantly black, and an incoming white couple find their plans to raze and rebuild questioned by an historically minded residents' association.

Norris writes that upon further investigation he discovered "blackface has been and continues to be a widespread practice for the German stage" with black German actors regularly "passed over for roles explicitly designated for them".

He has added his name, and backing, to a petition condemning the ongoing practice of blackface in Germany, and urges fellow playwrights to add theirs.

"I would advise you to boycott productions of your own work by German theatres that continue this asinine tradition (The Deutsches Theatre and the Schlosspark are only two examples)."

"A zero-tolerance position is the only position to take, in my opinion, and if we are united then perhaps a few German theatres may take notice and, hopefully, in time, a better course of action."

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