Casting Controversy

By Charlotte Hoppen

When selecting students to play the lead and supporting roles in the annual Seaholm Musical, talent, hard work and promise may be the factors that come to mind when dreaming of the perfect performer. However, students involved in the musical believe that the talent doesn’t always outweigh other factors, including gender, favoritism and race.

This year Seaholm will debut the musical Big Fish, which was recently released off of Broadway. Seaholm music education teacher Laurie Frick is the director and music director for Big Fish, and also the music facilitator for Birmingham Public Schools.

Frick chooses the musical productions each year, and she believes Big Fish is a musical aimed to pull at the heartstrings while stretching the imaginations of the audience.

“There’s dream sequences and there’s fantasy and gorgeous music, an amazing story line, and wonderful dancing,” Frick said.

When casting students in roles for the musical, Frick and a team of other adults use scoring during auditions in order to place students in certain roles.

“We did auditions in stages, we auditioned kids musically and vocally for their singing voices, obviously for their characterizations and for their ability to get into character and for their dance auditions,” Frick said.

According to Frick, the first stage in the audition process involves a ten-minute individual performance on one of the first three days where students simply show the judges what skills they have. After this initial audition, students return for a more critically scored judgment.

“They get another audition,” Frick said. “It’s a full three hour audition and we have the kids audition in teams.”

In years past, the judges have hosted callbacks, where students would have one final chance to prove to them what roles they could hold. However, Big Fish didn’t give students this one final chance to audition.

“In the past I’ve had callbacks on a Friday,” Frick said. “With this show, because of the scoring, we really didn’t need the callbacks. There was no real reason for it, we had completed the process.”

According to Frick, in case of a tie in the casting process, the students were double casted into roles instead of being called in for callbacks.

Big Fish originally has four female and six male roles. However, Frick split three of the four female roles and one of the six male roles in order to increase the amount of leads.

Although Frick split the female roles in order for there to be more leads, senior and member of the musical cast Abby Parsons believes that gender equality in the musical isn’t entirely present.

“Seaholm’s musical department could also greatly benefit from simply choosing shows that have more female roles,” Parsons said. “There is a huge group of talented girls that want preform in the show, but the department keeps picking shows with a large amount of male roles and fewer female roles, even though the majority of the cast is female.”

From the musical Funny Girl in 2006 to Big Fish in 2016, ten out of the twelve Seaholm musicals have been male dominated in the area of lead roles. In 2015 there was an equal amount of genders in lead roles in the musical Mary Poppins, and Cinderella in 2010 was the only musical that had more lead females casted than males, totaling four males and five females.

Frick believes the casting is fair due to the extension of the roles outside of the leads. Students not casted in the lead roles were casted in a supporting role or in the technical crew.

“What’s really cool about the show is there’s so many supporting roles. There’s got to be 25 or 30 roles,” Frick said. “All the roles are important, it’s not just the leads.”

Parsons also doesn’t believe that the roles are limited based only on gender. She relates a portion of the casting based upon what students take choir at Seaholm.

“I think it’s (casting) fair to an extent,” Parsons said. “Talented people normally will get some form a role major or minor. However, I think if you aren’t in choir your chances of getting a lead are drastically decreased, which isn’t fair because not everyone has room for choir in their schedule.”

Parsons is not alone in this belief. Senior Meg O’Mara, who is involved in the musical, believes that the casting in the musical is not entirely fair to students due to the opportunities the choir is given.

“Usually, before auditions for musical start, students will ask to review audition music in class,” O’Mara said. “It’s great if you need the extra help, but it’s definitely a drag for choir students who aren’t interested in being involved in the musical.”

Frick has been the choral director for Seaholm for the past six and a half years. She claims that all of the work done on the musical occurs outside of school time.

Parsons also believes that the favoritism of students in choir leads to casting inequalities.

“I think there is a lot of favoritism that goes on in musical department,” Parsons said. “[There are] a lot of talented seniors who didn’t get parts this year because there where sophomores and juniors who where more well liked than the seniors.”

According to Frick, the judges during the audition process have a strict set of scoring that narrowed the original 65 students into the lead roles available. She said they first look at the student’s talent and abilities to play the roles available, and then the student’s physical appearance comes into play.

“You look towards first their singing and acting ability,” Frick said, “and then once you narrow a field of people, then you go towards the way they look.”

In the 2015, the Seaholm musical was Tarzan. Students were cast into the roles of people and animals in the Disney film, and Tarzan is portrayed as a muscular, tall male.

“I would probably not have cast a five foot two boy to be Tarzan because Tarzan needed to look like a Tarzan,” Frick said. “When you only have one or two people who look like a Tarzan who audition, you’re probably going to go towards those people that auditioned.”

However, Frick does believe in certain roles the students can be changed to fill the need of the role without necessarily exactly fitting the physical description.

“You can change the way people look,” Frick said.

Senior Jiiya Stubbs, who is involved in the musical, believes there isn’t an equal opportunity for students of different ethnicities to be involved in the musical.

“Most shows won’t specify the ethnicity of a character, but I feel that if traditionally there is diversity within a show directors should aim to model that,” Stubbs said.

No matter what ethnicity the character is written to have, Stubbs believes that the ethnicity should be ignored and students should gain a role-based solely on talent.

“Several members of the show have expressed their concerns to me, and just on a personal level as an actor, I don’t think any roles should be handed to anyone based on skin color, but there should definitely be equal opportunity for those roles,” Stubbs said.

In 2010, the Seaholm musical was Cinderella. Shea Renne, a senior at the time, was cast as Cinderella.

Renne is currently working in the Broadway musical Allegiance. Renne is not white, so she didn’t fit the stereotypical view of Cinderella being a white female. However, she didn’t believe that her race would lessen her chances of receiving a lead role.

“I wasn’t worried,” Renne said. “I trusted that challenge and hard work could get me through.”

Renne said she doesn’t believe that Seaholm would ever discriminate against an actor based on their skin color.

Stubbs, O’Mara and Parsons all believe there can be changes made to the musical in order to cast out the casting controversy that students think exist.

“The root of the issue with this years’ show and previous shows done at Seaholm is that on a large scale people are feeling that equal opportunity is never presented,” Stubbs said.

Parsons stated that the choir class should be completely separated from the musical, even though Frick already believes that the work goes on outside of school only.

“It needs to start being more about talent and dedication then it does who’s most liked by the director,” Parsons said. “Musical is supposed to display Seaholm’s most theatrically talented students not who’s in choir or is really well loved.”

Big Fish will show at Seaholm beginning on February 26, 2016. Frick believes the production and performance by the cast and crew will display the work ethic each student casted for the roles put in.

While the students work together to create the musical, Parsons aims to change the way students feel during the production and casting process.

“The musical can undoubtedly grow to be a better environment for all involved,” Parsons said.

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