In an excerpt from this week?s podcast, Molly Smith explains the historical foundation for this casting decision.
Smith: We went back and did research. Janine Sobeck who is our wonderful dramaturge here, our literary advisor and found that Oklahoma in 1907 was extremely diverse. If you look back to, I think it was 1897 when the Great Land Rush happened, everybody was there. The Asian people were there. Indians who had had their land taken away from them were there. White people were there. African American freed blacks were there. There was this tremendous land rush were everybody ran and grabbed their 160 acres of land. Now in 1907 there were African American communities, Asian American communities, Indian communities, but they were all separate. So in really taking the play to Washington D.C. 2010, I wanted the play to be cross cultural because that’s where we are as modern society. So what I did was I crossed the cultures. But within the production, if for example Aunt Eller has her niece Laurey, they’re played by two wonderful African American performers. Ado Annie and her father are white. Nick, because he doesn’t have a parent or child on stage, who plays the role of Curly is Latino. So the races are all crossed within the world and yet if there is a family relationship, it’s the same race. Someone came in the other day and said, “Do you believe in colorblind casting?” And I said, “No, I don’t.” I understand colorblind casting. I did it years ago. It’s been a part of my history for forever. But I believe that there is a problem with that, with colorblind casting because I don’t think we’re colorblind. I think we see race. Of course. So what I want to do is remove from the audience the, “Oh, if he’s white and she’s black and their father and daughter, what happened? Was there a white mother? Was she adopted? Was she—“ And so by removing that, suddenly everybody can relax and can see the production. So you see that very clearly within this world of “Oklahoma!”. I also really wanted choreographer that would bring in the robustness of the west. In Alaska when I was a kid, there were so many barroom brawls that the next morning it wouldn’t even be mentioned. Which is to me what the west is. Here in Washington D.C. we’d be talking about it forever and ever and ever on the radio shows and everything else. It was a natural part of the toughness of the life. And so we brought all that on stage.