By Jonathan Smith, Editor in Chief
After days of uncertainty, the Theatre Department on Wednesday announced Seussical would replace Aida as this year’s Homecoming Musical.
The late change occurred after Adam Hester, chair of the Theatre Department, pulled Aida on Aug. 8 because of concerns in the community that a white actress was cast to play a lead role as a Nubian princess.
With the first rehearsal Saturday, the cast and crew will now have about two months—as opposed to six months for Aida—to prepare for Seussical before its Oct. 14-16 showings.
“Every production has its challenges,” Hester said in an e-mail. “Time will be ours.
“There will probably be several rehearsals taking place at the same time. There may be one group working on choreography while another is in blocking rehearsals and a third will be working on learning music. Seussical allows for segmenting rehearsals in that way.”
Hester said he does not believe any elements of the production will have to be sacrificed because of the time element.
Hester said he selected Seussical, a contemporary re-imagining of Dr. Seuss’ most famous stories and characters, in part because it could be purchased from the same licensing company, Musical Theatre Internation, from which Aida was purchased. He said that the cost for Seussical would be comparable to Aida minus some return shipping costs and cancellation charges.
Hester said he selected Seussical also because it allowed the leads from Aida to receive comparably sized roles in the new production.
Hester said he first became aware of the casting concerns for Aida in July after being contacted by a reporter from the Abilene Reporter-News.
After discussions with administrators and initially deciding to move ahead with Aida, Hester said he realized that some groups would be “deeply affected” by any decision he made.
“I felt strongly that changing the play would be a sacrifice that would bring about the most good,” he said.
Hester said the department uses a colorblind casting policy, which means talent—not ethnicity—is used to determine casting.
This same policy has allowed Caucasian and minority students alike to play a variety of characters of other ethnicities.
Although his research showed that Disney-supported productions cast non-black actresses as the lead role for Aida, and the licensing company said there were no ethnic restrictions on casting, Hester said the main factor into his decision was a desire for harmony in the community.
“I wanted to reconcile with those in the community who believed this was a choice that would cause deep wounds,” Hester said. “In this instance, I felt we were called to be instruments of peace.”
Although Hester said he believes the department will continue to encounter issues of race and other sensitive subjects, he said he hopes the production of Seussical can be the main focus now—not a controversy.
“We want the messages of the plays we produce to be heard and felt and reflected upon,” Hester said. “It’s important that the play is the focus, not external circumstances.”