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Theatre and Dance Department strives to incorporate diversity

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The show must always go on for the Department of Theatre and Dance, even if it means having to deal with a lack of minority students in the program.

In fall 2015, the Theatre and Dance Department produced the musical “Evita.” It follows the story of Argentinian’s first lady, Eva Perón. However, the part was given to white actress Michaela Boissonneault instead of a Latina woman.

Robert Moore, “Evita” director, said he cast a white actor because there was a limited amount of people auditioning who racially fit the part.

“It is true that we did not have a Latino actress audition who was qualified to play the role,” Moore said. “If a Latino actress had auditioned for the role and had she possessed the gifts that Boissonneault does, I would certainly have considered her for the part.”

Moore said he was focused on an actresses’ ability to play the part rather than her ethnicity.

“We chose to cast Boissonneault [because she] most possessed the charisma, professionalism, acting chops and vocal ability to pull off the challenging role of Eva,” Moore said. “In our circumstances, it would have been an injustice not to cast Michaela simply because of her differing heritage.”

Kaitlin Hopkins, head of the musical theatre program, said cutting the show would have been unfair for the other actors.

“The only Latina female in the program who could actually sing the part was Julia Estrada, but she was already cast in the lead of the Latino play ‘Marisol’ at the same time of ‘Evita,’”Hopkins said.

According to Hopkins, ethnicity and diversity were present through the rest of the “Evita” cast.

Julia Estrada, musical theatre senior, said limited minorities in musical theatre programs is an issue at many universities.

“I think any program in the country would have trouble filling a cast entirely with Latinos,” Estrada said. “It’s a tricky show for any college program to put on.”

Estrada said minority actors are hard to find in the theater profession because of the lack of funding for programs in low-income communities.

“Theater is a luxury that a lot of people are not able to afford or have access to,” Estrada said. “I think that most of the areas that have striving theatre departments are primarily in white, upper-class neighborhoods.”

Department officials make it their mission to accept nonwhite students in the programs so they are able to produce shows with diverse content, according to Hopkins.

The  Black and Latino Playwrights Conference is held every year through the department.

Benjamin Toomer, musical theatre sophomore, said being a minority in the department does not affect him.

“The Black and Latino Playwrights Conference really exposed me to the type of work that I am going to be doing in the future, and it’s really cool to find different materials that cater towards my wheelhouse as an artist,” Toomer said.

Hopkins only accepts 14 actors into the musical theatre program each year. A total of five African-American actors were invited into the program last year, but only two made the cut.

“We are producing shows that cater to an audience that is diverse, so we are actively recruiting ethnicity, but so is every program in the country,” Hopkins said. “We are all competing for them.”

Hopkins said five out of the six shows this fall have roles of ethnicity.

“Sometimes we won’t have enough ethnic actors and that is okay,” Hopkins said. “However, we will never stop recruiting ethnicity and producing shows that have diverse content.”