Last night I attended Platform Papers launch of Lee Lewis’ essay on Cross-Racial Casting.

Alison Croggon from theatre notes officially launched the book.

As someone who isn’t a regular theatre-goer it was great that the forum put the essay and the issue in a historical context. There were perceptive opinions and pertinent questions from the audience regarding the artistic implications for Non-White, as well as White theatre practitioners; who the main-stage companies actually represent; and why there is a perceived inability to initiate change.

Reading the essay in full today it became clear the argument for cross-racial casting has as much to do with artistic endeavour as to create, and therefore represent, a true national identity on the mainstream stages.

The idea of ‘Australian theatre’, the search for the next ‘great Australian play’, and the always popular insistence on ‘telling Australian stories’, are all nationalist enterprises which are already racially constructed to support a future White-imagined community. Intended to generate positive energy with their nationalistic fervour, especially when they appear in grant applications and media releases, these phrases cannot help but imply exclusivist racial outcomes.

If anything, reading Lee’s essay helped identify how uncomfortable people are with implicit racism, and the subsequent choices we make. However, I’m hesitant to embrace any form of positive discrimination to rectify a problem. Lee suggests informal legislation, such as has been tried in the past through funding distribution or company policy to cast cross-racially, serves only to make people follow by word and not in spirit, making the choice meaningless.

Please, go buy the book. Otherwise, read Matt, Ming or Alison‘s response to the essay and join the conversation.