A Focus On Diversity & Representation in Central MA Theatre


Posted: December 3, 2021

As our culture reckons with injustices that have surrounded us for centuries, we have the chance to  experience art (specifically theatre) that showcases the struggles and strength of the human experience. While the pandemic has presented some major setbacks, theatre has slowly and safely begun to reemerge and make a thoughtful, intentional comeback. Whether it be the plot of the show or the compelling casting choices, theatres throughout Central Mass. have spent 2021 using their productions to spark dialogue around diversity, equity and inclusion.  

“A Christmas Carol” at the Hanover Theatre 

"A Christmas Carol" at The Hanover Theatre

Now less than a month away, the Hanover Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol”—adapted by Troy Siebels, the Hanover’s CEO and President—opens Dec. 16 and runs until Dec. 23. Siebels explains how the show continues to stay relevant year after year, and that “doing it with new cast members each year gives [them] ability to dig a little deeper and find ways to show how it applies in different ways.” This year, Siebels decided to dig deeper by casting Indian actors in the roles of Bob Cratchit, Mrs. Cratchit, and the Cratchit children, hoping to illustrate the immigration that took place during this period due to England’s colonization of India. On the Hanover's Blog, Seibels talks about how the difference in race and culture between Bob Cratchit and Ebenezer Scrooge impacts their interactions with each other and “affects the way Bob Cratchit hears some of the things Ebenezer Scrooge says.” Not only does this casting choice serve to educate the audience about what England really looked like in the 1800s, but it also serves as a representation of our community here in Central Mass.  

Siebels says, “I live in Shrewsbury and my kids go to school with many South Asian kids and none of them were on stage last year in ‘A Christmas Carol...’ This is not color-blind casting; this is intentionality and trying to explore.” If you’re interested in witnessing this inventive, one-of-a-kind version of a classic holiday tale, click here for more information and to purchase tickets. 


Central MA Theatre Highlights From 2021 

“Admissions” at the Grandview Ave. Playhouse  

"Admissions" photo by Alan Arsenault

 Photo by Alan Arsenault

This past October, the Worcester County Light Opera Club (WCLOC) Theater Company reopened its Playhouse for the first time since the onset of COVID-19 with a production of “Admissions,” a “satire to expose the insidious nature of white privilege” by Joshua Harmon. The show centers around two white parents, their son, and his mixed-race best friend. The parents work for the same school, and pride themselves on having helped create diversity at the institution; however, when their son and his best friend both apply to an Ivy League school and only his best friend gets accepted, the parents’ reactions expose their hypocrisy. In describing the show, the director, Linda Oroszko, says, “By focusing on the actions of one family, the play examines the urgent need for equality and diversity in humorous and not-so-humorous ways.” 

“Julius Caesar” on the Worcester Common

BEHIND THE SCENES WITH LIVY SCANLON AND ADAPTING JULIUS CAESAR FOR WORCESTER
Source: The Hanover Theatre

Over the summer, the Hanover Theatre worked with seasoned and brand-new actors alike to put on a unique production of “Julius Caesar,” adapted by Olivia Scanlon. While the original version featured a cast of 50 with only two female roles, Scanlon paired down the cast to include 20 members and more variety in terms of gender. She intentionally changed the gender of a few key characters from male to female “to reflect... the fact that women in our day and age hold positions of power and to further normalize that trend.” Additionally, Scanlon changed the gender of Caesar’s spouse from female to male.  

She explains, “I thought that casting Caesar to have a husband instead of a wife would put Caesar in a marginalized group and that would complicate his character. It would make him more complex; it might help us understand why he, in moments, seems to be overly and toxically masculine, why he is so hell-bent on asserting his power and masculinity.” 

Photo by Erb/Dufault Photography

Not only did Scanlon try to diversify gender and sexuality in the show, but she also made an effort to diversify race, immigration status, and even the actors’ experience levels. For example, the roles of Brutus and Portia are played by two Black, professional actors by the names of Joshua Wolf Coleman and Lizzy Brooks. Scanlon also featured three immigrants in the show—one from Brazil and two from Uganda—who she discovered through Worc at Play, an actor training program for adults in the Greater Worcester area. 

Regarding how her casting choices would affect how themes in the show are interpreted by the audience, Scanlon explains, “People at every level from the most powerful to the powerless are taking matters into their own hands and abandoning the principles that hold our democracy together, so I’m trying to make that broader parallel between ancient Rome and America today.”  

She continues, “There’s nothing in the text about Caesar being gay, there’s nothing in the text about Brutus being a black man in our production of the play. We’re saying these characters are women, but beyond that, there’s nothing said about Cassia or Antonia being women, they just are. Audiences are going to have to sit with their own prejudices and alliances.” 

“The Niceties” at the BrickBox Theater 

"The Niceties" WCLOC

Photo by Christopher O'Connor

Back in June of this year, Eleanor Burgess’ play "The Niceties," directed by Eric Butler, premiered at the BrickBox Theater. In the show, a Black college student meets with her white liberal professor for feedback on an essay about the American Revolution and the meeting evolves into a heated discussion about history and race.  

Burgess explains that “the third act of the play happens in the bar afterward,” meaning that the show elicits meaningful conversation amongst audience members. The production was a collaboration between the WCLOC Theater Company, the Worcester Black History Project and the Worcester Historical Museum, with additional support from the Worcester Arts Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. In elaborating on “The Niceties” provocative nature, Butler says Burgess is "getting you to ask questions and not providing specific answers. She presents both sides of an argument.” 


If this year’s productions are any indication of where theatre in Central Mass. is headed as we approach the new year, it is safe to say we can expect to see shows that manage to both entertain us, challenge us, and make us think critically about the society we live in.