Changing the Way We Look at Casting

What does “rainbow casting” mean to you? Join the conversation!

Ma-Yi Theater believes in equal opportunity and in reflecting the diversity of our communities in our work.

While the intent of rainbow casting is well-meaning—as defined in our video, it is the practice of casting a show without regard to race or ethnicity—it is often complicated by misguided practices and its own altruistic context. Often, it falls short of the ideals it espouses.

“Rainbow casting” was used to justify Jonathan Pryce’s “yellow face” appearance in the musical Miss Saigon. It was used to lend credibility to casting Caucasian actors in Asian-specific roles in the workshop of The Nightingale and in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Orphan of Zhao. What was intended to correct the long-standing disenfranchisement of actors of color by providing them more opportunities has, in effect, become yet another obstacle.

The ideal behind Rainbow Casting is not meant to be a concession from theatre establishments, nor is it intended as an artistic compromise triggered by magnanimity. If theatre is to remain a relevant venue for the meaningful exchange of ideas, then it must mirror the world in which it exists.

The Ma-Yi Writers Lab

This video was made by Ma-Yi Theater.

Founded in 1989, Ma-Yi Theater Company is a Drama Desk and Obie Award-winning organization whose primary mission is to develop and produce new and innovative plays by Asian American writers. Since its founding, Ma-Yi has distinguished itself as one of the country’s leading incubators of new work shaping the national discourse about what it means to be Asian American today.