An opening casting call for an upcoming, new play in New York City featured heavy penalties regarding compensation and mandatory diversity training solely for white applicants.
In a recent posting to Backstage.com, a website used to help actors and performers browse and apply for auditions, playwright E. Wray posted a casting call for a new and original stage production which centered around the dynamics of ‘Appalachian story-telling’ and ‘decolonizing and […] dismantling white-supremacy’ as they related to their personal experience:
“I am a 29-year-old white, trans, & neuro-divergent theatre artist from East Tennessee. I grew up with a super-granma who imparted me with story after story about my Appalachian ancestors. In EXCAVATION, I turn to Gigi’s stories to try to understand more about intergenerational trauma and to search for the healing potential of properly grieving what has been buried, passed down, and repeated in my family. Once I begin digging, however, I end up in a much bigger confrontation with my settler-colonizer ancestors.
This project looks at how the stories we tell (and the stories we don’t tell) shape our understandings of ourselves and the world we live in. Working within Appalachian story-telling forms, I look at how my predominately white family has used stories to obscure our roles in the history and persistence of colonization, and to deny culpability. But I also go to these same forms, these same stories, these same practices, to ask how these traditions could be transformed and used in the service of decolonizing, and in dismantling white supremacy.”
However, Wright’s casting call came with specific stipulations for white applicants, based solely on their skin color. In regards to compensation, the casting call bluntly stated that white applicants would be paid less in comparison to their ‘PoC’ counterparts:
“Pays a small stipend (minimum $150) for the spring workshop period. Due to the content of this particular project, resources are being allocated in favor of POC collaborators. This means that POC artists will receive a larger stipend than the white artists working on this project.”
It also noted that white applicants would be mandated to attend an ‘anti-racism training’ whilst the training would be optional and voluntary for their ‘PoC’ counterparts:
“Please note we are working on organizing a short (3 – 4 hour) anti-racism training for the creative team and ensemble in April – to help us address power dynamics and reduce harm within the creative process. This training will be open to all ensemble members and creative team members, but will be mandatory only for white ensemble/creatives.”
The casting call also features a call for a stage manager which, unsurprisingly, presents two different response requirements based on the applicant’s race:
“If you’re interested, please email a resume … and tell us a little bit about yourself and why you’re interested in working on this project. If you’re white, we’d also love to hear a little bit about what accountability to people of color within a creative process means to you.”
Following the initial discovery of this casting call, Frank Camp, a reporter for The Daily Wire, noted that the section detailing compensation had removed any mention of intentional pay disparities. When Camp reached out to Wray for comment regarding this alteration, Wray personally confirmed that PoC specifically would be receiving a higher level of compensation:
“Just checked it – I think Backstage must have taken out the part about paying people of color a higher stipend. But that hasn’t changed!”
While the playwright’s attempts to center the production and it’s applicants around social justice rhetoric, the hiring practices as described above are completely illegal under United States law. Specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states:
(a) Employer practices
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer –
(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or
(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
As of writing, the initial Backpage.com listing for Wray’s play has been deleted, and as such the call can currently only be accessed through internet archives of the page. It is unknown if the play is still in production.