Celine Ryan, Campus Reform, October 1, 2018
Kent State University canceled its fall production of West Side Story following complaints by students that the casting was insensitive to “Latinx” students.
West Side Story, a spin-off of Romeo and Juliet involving Polish-American and Puerto Rican street gangs, has a large number of Puerto Rican lead characters. Some students say Kent State’s School of Theatre and Dance should have given these roles to Latino and Latina students, according to Kentwired.
Students complained not only that none of the three Puerto Rican character lead roles were given to “Latinx” students, but also that some of the Puerto Rican character supporting roles were given to white students. Some complained that the school gave ensemble roles to white students instead of Latino and Latina students, some of whom received no part at all.
Kent State theater major and Latin/x in Theater President Viviana Cardenas auditioned for a lead role and was disappointed to find out that it was ultimately given to an African American student.
Kent State puts theater students who decline their given roles on probation, meaning that they are barred from participating in any Kent State or outside theater productions. Students upset about their casting because of racial reasons did not have the option of turning down their role without facing academic repercussions because of this rule.
Van Baars [Theatre and Dance Director Eric van Baars] decided to cancel the production altogether and instead cast for Children of Eden, a musical based on the Book of Genesis with the goal of “telling a different story right now…that maybe has a message of more hope and positivity moving forward.”
However, Theatre Performance minor Skyler Dye says the decision reflects negatively on the university. Acknowledging that while he never saw the names on the final cast list, and therefore could not speak to “whether they could pass as Puerto Rican or not,” he says people’s appearance should not be what matters.
Dye called the decision to cancel the production “bowing to racists,” adding that the decision to give in to demands “purely because those people can’t see anything but skin color says more than enough about the university and its dedication to quality.”