About the Project

(Re)Setting the Stage: The Past, Present, and Future of Casting Practices in Canada responds to urgent questions about the relationship between historical casting practices and the onstage representation of women, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), and LGBTQ2 individuals in contemporary Anglo-American performance. Recent theatre and film productions have deliberately overturned decades, if not centuries, of audience expectations through innovative casting, offering everything from female Hamlets (Why Not Theatre, 2019, Stratford Festival, 2022) to “identity conscious” productions of canonical plays like Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (Crow’s Theatre, 2022). But not everyone has warmed to these changes or welcomed the casting decisions made. As Amy Cook astutely notes in Building Character: The Art and Science of Casting, “Some bodies pass more seamlessly than others” into known historical or fictional characters. Such passing hinges on various forms of categorization – “[h]ow we categorize, how we conceive of the world around us, impacts what we are capable of seeing, what we are capable of knowing” (13). Acknowledging the relationship between casting practices and knowledge formation not only explains why (historically) actors who fit easily into established categories or “types” have more easily found employment than their peers but also sheds light on the negative reactions that can arise when performers who do not conform to type step into roles traditionally occupied by those who do. Current debates about casting decisions are symptomatic of much deeper arguments about gender, race, ability, power, privilege, and the troubling legacies of settler-colonialism and white supremacy. 

(Re)Setting the Stage seeks to situate these debates within a broader historical context, while advancing dialogue with the artistic directors, playwrights, actors, and other creators who are actively rethinking the relationship between casting and representation in Canadian professional theatre and university-level theatre training through innovative programming and casting practices. Within a five year period, the project aims to impact the lives of working artists and reshape the education of future artists in Canadian training institutions. 

See below for more details on specific activities.

Major activities included:

  • January 2021: Hosting a public lecture with Sadie Berlin entitled, “All Dramaturgy is Cultural Dramaturgy,” followed by a workshop for graduate students.
  • February 2021: Co-sponsoring and facilitating Seeding the Future,” a collaboration with Obsidian Theatre, CBC, and Brock University, which brought together 21 emerging Black artists to provide creative responses to all 21 of Obsidian Theatre’s 21 Black Futures.
  • May-June 2021: Convening a two-day online symposium entitled (Re)Setting the Stage: The Past, Present, and Future of Casting Practices in Canada,” a response to the call for greater transparency and accountability in creative practices, including (but not limited to) casting decisions and play selection within the Canadian theatre industry. Co-curated with Assistant Professor Jamie Robinson, PhD student Marilo Nuñez, and three undergraduate RA’s (Cassandra Henry, Dante Jemmott, and Zoe Marin), this event featured three online panels with 15 artists from across the country. 

Major activities included:

  • September 2022: Co-producing and co-sponsoring “Black and Free: Theatre and Conversation (Sept. 24, 2022), an online conversation with Quincy Armorer, Rawle Gibbons, and Djanet Sears, moderated by Naila Keleta-Mae. Co-presenters included Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (York), the Department of English at McGill University, University of Waterloo, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
  • September 2022: Co-producing and sponsoring Dr. Amy Cook’s talk, “Shakespearean Futures: Casting the Bodies of Tomorrow on Shakespeare’s Stages Today (Sept. 28, 2022). The talk was moderated by Jamie Robinson with participation from the members of the Stratford Festival Lab. This event was produced in collaboration with ted witzel and the Stratford Festival Lab.
  • All year: Editing a special issue of Canadian Theatre Review on the topic of Casting and Race, which will be published in Winter 2023. This project built directly on (Re)Setting the Stage. For the CTR issue, Robinson, Nuñez, and Schweitzer worked with three undergraduate RAs (Zoe Marin, Liam Lockhart-Rush, and Yasmine Amirkhani) to commission essays, manifestos, short responses, and playscripts from theatre scholars and artists from across the country. An edited transcript from the (Re)Setting the Stage event will be included, along with a glossary of terms and a photo essay/exhibit documenting the history of culturally specific companies in Canada. 

Major activities underway:

  • Ongoing development and launch of the project website
  • January-February 2023: Launch of special CTR issue
  • Preparation for a spring 2023 symposium on Casting Shakespeare in Canada, which will bring together actors, playwrights, directors, and theatre educators for two days of panels and conversation, with an emphasis on identifying innovative, transformative, inclusive approaches to Shakespeare. 
  • Preparation for a podcast series on Casting Shakespeare in Canada, with a specific focus on Hamlet. The series is scheduled to launch in spring 2023.
  • Preliminary plans to host artists in Fall 2023