The casting of 'The Flick' did not follow the BME character specifications of the scriptLouis Ashworth

A production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama The Flick has been cancelled as part of an effort to increase BME representation in Cambridge theatre.

The production was due to be staged this term, but its production team took the decision not to continue with the run, with the support of Cambridge University Amateur Dramatics Club (CUADC). In an email sent to ticket holders, they explained that they were “not able to adhere to the BME casting specifications in the script” when the show was originally cast.

The statement continued, “Significant work and, in turn, change, has occurred in the last year regarding BME representation in Cambridge theatre. To be active in our support of this we have decided to cancel our revival of The Flick. We hope theatre makers in our university and beyond continue to act for greater diversity on the stage."

The show was initially meant to be performed in Lent 2016, but issues with the rights to the play meant that it was delayed by over a year, with the original cast being retained. The original casting did not follow the BME character specifications laid out in the script, with one of its main characters, Avery, cast using a white actor to play what was written as an African-American role.

The decision comes after an open letter was sent to the CUADC committee by Amiya Nagpal, on behalf of the BME theatre community, which highlighted instances of “whitewashing” on the Cambridge theatre scene, and specified The Flick.

The letter pointed out a history of “whitewashing” BME representation on Cambridge’s well-known theatre scene. It pointed specifically to  Little Shop of Horrors (2016) where non-black actors played Crystal, Ronnette, and Chiffon, and West Side Story (2016), which is “centered around racial conflict between Puerto Ricans and white Americans, but had all parts played by a majority white cast”.

The letter also argued that shows in Cambridge's student theatre scene had “often been amiss with ethnicity in regards to casting as well,” singling out Pembroke Players’ 2016 production of The History Boys for its casting of an East Asian actor to play a South Asian character.

The letter proposed a several amendments to CUADC, including the introduction of  a BME representative position on the CUADC committee.

Nagpal stressed the importance of open discussion and dialogue on topics surrounding race, saying “the CUADC will be able to improve, and maintain integrity and fairness towards its members of colour” by accepting her proposed amendments.

Oscar Yang, President of CUADC, explained to Varsity that the original casting of The Flick had experienced problems because only two black actors had auditioned. He continued, “The show required American accents and actors to be able to hold the stage,” and due to these requirements,  “we did not feel that those who auditioned would be able to play the role”.

He emphasised that The Flick was not cancelled as a result of Nagpal’s letter: although the original casting did not reflect the progress made in BME representation, “the production team decided that recasting would not be an option given how soon the run was. Given this, the production team decided not to continue with the production”.

Yang also stressed the importance of the Facebook group created for BME theatre in Cambridge in Michaelmas 2016, which aims to increase the profile of BME members of the theatre community and advertise opportunities.

Through the group, specific BME opportunities have been created, and the group has become a platform for systemic change. Last term's BME production of Macbeth sold out and received excellent reviews. Similarly, the recent BME Footlights Smoker, which replaced The Flick’s original slot, also sold out its run.