Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
I’ve remained largely silent on the recent controversy at North Shore Music Theatre’s upcoming Evita–where the short story is the old story, about how yet again a play about people of color is being told by a predominantly white cast — in part because others are doing a better job of patiently breaking down what the problem is here, and in part because I don’t know that I’d be saying anything differently than I’ve said it before, and I bristle when I know I’m repeating myself.
That said, here’s the question I want to be asking instead. Why are we still performing Webber/Rice’s Evita at all?
The musical was written four years after the death of Juan Peron and over two decades after the death of its titular subject. In the nearly 40 years since its first production, the political movement that bears their name has shaped and reshaped Argentina itself, with leaders as recent as Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (president, 2007 – 2015) self-identifying as Peronist. Juan and Eva are figures of significant controversy and canonization in their homeland, and their lives are well worthy of examination.
Yet the most visible media portrayal we have of those lives was written by two white men from Great Britain.
Pedro Orgambide’s Eva was first produced in 1986 as an Argentine response to Evita, and was revived briefly in 2008. Few American audiences have ever seen it in any form, and while I don’t believe it has ever been translated into English, neither are most operas, and American theatergoers seem to go to the opera anyway. I don’t know if its music is “inferior” by some subjective standard to the music of Webber/Rice, but that’s not really the point I’m driving at — what I’m saying is that there is already in the world a musical about the Perons that was written by a native Argentine, and perhaps it should be looked at more closely for wider production.
But there’s the other truth of the matter, here: The majority of Americans don’t flock to see Evita because they have a particular interest in the stories of Juan and Eva Peron. They go because they have a soft spot for the music and the basic, uplifting and tragic beats that Eva Peron’s life holds. And theaters don’t produce Evita because they are compelled to share a story of Argentina. They produce it because people are predisposed to buy tickets to see this particular, tried-and-tested version of that story.
None of this is to undercut the very real and vital arguments being made against whitewashed casting, whether it’s here with Evita, or past productions of In The Heights and other major musical productions that assumed the best actors for a non-white role would necessarily be white. That argument needs to happen repeatedly until it is finally heard, in all visual storytelling mediums. At the same time: New perspectives call for new work, and new work calls for theaters to have the courage to try it, and courage is what theatre always needs more of as an art form.
Programming Evita is not courageous. Casting Evita authentically is a breath of fresh air, but not in and of itself courageous. Developing an all-new version of this story and then casting it authentically? Tell me more.