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Casting questions arise regarding who can play King Richard

By: Andrew Zheng

When three prestigious Shakespeare companies staged Richard III this summer, each company took a different approach to casting the lead character, King Richard.

One of the companies was the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England. King Richard, played by the actor Arthur Hughes, had radio dysplasia, meaning he had a shorter right arm and a missing thumb. The company said it was the first time they had cast a disabled actor to play the character. The director Gregory Doran who was recently the Royal Shakespeare’s artistic director, said to The Times of London earlier this year that having an actor play a disabled actor was “probably not acceptable” these days.

The Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada took a different approach; it cast Colm Feore, who was not disabled, to play Richard. In New York, the City Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park went for another approach. They cast Danai Gurira, a black woman who did not have a disability.

Mr. Doran’s remark caused heated debate in theater circles. Mr. Doran’s husband Anthony Sher, a renowned Shakespearean, who died last year, was one of the most well-known actors for Richard. Mr. Doran later clarified his thinking on casting, explaining that any actor could succeed, but he believed the role should be reserved for disabled actors.

The perspective on casting has differed over the years. “It used to be that part of the measurement of greatness was your ability to transform yourself,” said Isaac Butler, the author of “The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act,” a new history of Method acting. “Is versatility still the hallmark of good acting? And how do you approach it if there are certain identity lines you cannot cross? And which are those identity lines?”

There has been a push for casting freedoms in some areas. Others argue for more literalism, especially for actors who lack good opportunities.

Who Can Play the King? Questions of Representation Fuel Casting Debates ....


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