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AFD meets challenges involving dramas calling for Black actors

465 CREW Miller Gillespie LisaLisa Miller-Gillespie

The following fact-based opinion was written by Ginger Webb, publicity director for the Arlington Friends of the Drama (AFD) in response to questions from YourArlington about the impact of race on the local theater, 101 years old.

Each year AFD strives to present at least one thought-provoking drama in addition to its popular musicals and comedies.

This year the chosen play is “Court-Martial at Fort Devens.” See Friends of the Drama: 'Court-Martial at Fort Devens' premiering March 1.

However, there are challenges to presenting a play about Black history in a largely white suburban town.

Recruiting Black actors for a show like this does require some outreach, and AFD always pauses before deciding to choose a show in which we know we may have to heavily recruit outside our usual casting calls. 

Ideally, we like to be color-blind in casting and hiring directors.

For example, our Irish play last season was directed by Filipino director Michelle Aguillon, not an obvious choice, but an excellent director who long had this play on her directing “bucket list.” And our "lead player" for Pippin was a person of color, as were folks in the ensemble.

AFD has had directors of color before, and shows that featured Black actors – the most recent that comes to mind was “Clybourne Park," in 2016 -- but truthfully, when the script specifically calls for Black actors, it can be a challenge.

Luckily, because of networking efforts of our director, Lisa Miller-Gillespie, and production manager, Susan Harrington, both black women, getting the word out in advance yielded all the actors of color we needed in our initial casting call. 

So, while it was ambitious to decide to mount this play, we feel it will be successful, and hope Arlingtonians will come out to see this production.

It portrays a little-known slice of Black history, women's history and military history that occurred in our own backyard at Fort Devens.

And while the show opens at the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Women’s History Month, we think this play has an inspiring universal appeal about fighting for what is right, heartening each of us to stand up against discrimination of any kind.

Nov. 15, 2023: One Slight Hitch' comedy ran Dec. 3-10

This explanatory view was published Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.

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