I am a member of CSA, which stands for The Casting Society of America, the professional organization of Casting Directors. I am on the Board of Directors for CSA, where I serve on the Diversity Committee, along with my colleagues David Caparelliotis, Rosalie Joseph, and Stephanie Klapper. About a year ago, the committee sat down with representatives from the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts to discuss the topic of diversity in casting. It was mainly an introductory and exploratory meeting for us to ask the question: “What can we do to make this better?” Out of that meeting (and several follow-up meetings, as our group expanded) sprang a veritable geyser of discussions, arguments, stories, experiences shared and ideas pitched. We all agreed that something needed to be done, and that Casting Directors are in a unique position to promote diversity. But what could we do to move the cause forward?

Let’s start with what we CAN’T do: We can’t force a producer or director to cast any particular actor. We can advise, we can offer options, we can inspire new ideas and spark conversations. We can get actors in the room. We can take a certain amount of risk by bringing in actors who are somewhat outside of the parameters set for us by the creative team (a.k.a., the casting breakdown). But we have a job to do, and that job is to find the right actor for the role. If the playwright says the character is black, then the character is black. If I were to bring in white actors for that role, I would not have a job the next day. West Side Story is about racial tensions between white kids and Puerto Rican kids. Tony is white, Maria is Puerto Rican. The story is ABOUT race. If Tony is black or Asian, the story doesn’t work. Glee is about a bunch of misfit kids, one of whom is in a wheelchair, who start a fierce Glee Club together. If I bring in a fully-abled kid for that role who doesn’t use a wheelchair, I don’t have a… oh wait.

But here’s what we CAN do: We can do better than we have done. We can listen, we can ask you questions without fear, and we can seek understanding from each other. That is why are developing the “Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion in Casting Initiative,” a series of conversations and workshops designed to effect concrete change in how actors in historically underrepresented communities are afforded access to job opportunities. Our first event is a Town Hall conversation between Casting Directors and Actors with Disabilities. The goals of the event are:

•      for both constituencies to better understand the practical issues they encounter in their respective professions.

•      to discuss how CSA might better and more consistently work to increase audition opportunities and advocate for actors with disabilities.

Howard Sherman from Inclusion in the Arts will moderate the discussion.

Date:          Monday, September 21, 2015

Time:          7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Doors open at 6:30.

Location:    The Actors’ Equity Building

165 West 46th Street entrance, 14th floor – Council Room

New York, New York 10036

•      RSVP is necessary, as space is limited

•      CSA members and disabled actors should RSVP by e-mail no later than September 14, 2015, noting their affiliation, to TownHallRSVP@inclusioninthearts.org.

•      The Town Hall, an open forum between casting directors and actors with disabilities, is open to union and non-union artists. It is intended for professional and professionally trained actors with disabilities who are pursuing professional careers.

•      The space is wheelchair accessible and sign language interpreters will be present; those needing other accommodations, please note it in your RSVP.

The other major development that grew out of our partnership with Alliance was a mission statement. We consulted with several representatives from the communities of underrepresented actors and came up with a powerful statement that makes it clear who we are and what we believe in.

CSA is committed to increasing access to casting opportunities for actors who have been historically overlooked in the entertainment industry – from actors of color to actors with disabilities.  In working with our creative and producing teams we will champion our core values of diversity and inclusion, by engaging in thoughtful and informed discussions and by introducing and advocating for qualified actors. CSA and its individual members are committed to doing our part to expand perceptions and to creating a rich fabric of representation in storytelling across all media that reflects our society.

Our next step is to hold similar Town Hall conversations with other communities of actors who have been historically overlooked and underrepresented in the entertainment industry. If you belong to one of these communities and you want to get involved, please reach out to us. We’re Listening.