Backlash from Disability Advocacy Group on Broadway Keller Casting

10/29/2009 3:47 PM |

The Miracle Worker

Following very closely on yesterday’s announcement that Abigail Breslin will make her Broadway debut as Helen Keller in a revival of The Miracle Worker at Circle in the Square next year, the advocacy group Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts has stated its opposition to the casting decision. The group, rightly but hopelessly, makes a habit of protesting the casting of non-disabled actors as disabled characters. Most recently, the group organized protests when New York Theater Workshop didn’t audition any deaf actors for the part of a deaf character in an upcoming production of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

In the case of The Miracle Worker, the production company behind the Broadway show wanted a star from the get-go, and there was never a question of casting a deaf or blind actor in the part of Keller, who cannot hear or see. Lead producer David Richenthal explained the predictable financial reasons to ArtsBeat:

It’s simply naïve to think that in this day and age, you’ll be able to sell tickets to a play revival solely on the potential of the production to be a great show or on the potential for an unknown actress to give a breakthrough performance. I would consider it financially irresponsible to approach a major revival without making a serious effort to get a star.

Which is both exactly what you’d expect from a Broadway producer and very naïve in its condescension to Broadway audiences.

2 Comment

  • I’m not crazy about the idea of casting stars because they are stars–it’s no better than casting people with disabilities because they are disabled. Producers ought to cast the people they’d most like to see in the roles.

    Acting is the art of being who you are not. Anyone who wants inclusion ought to help create a climate where any actor can be considered for any role. Marlee Matlin played a pollster (who happened to be deaf) in West Wing. Disabled actors can be doctors, lawyers, detectives, criminals–anything at all. And anyone at all can play the role of someone who is disabled. I go into this in depth in my column at: http://thefastertimes.com/theatertalk/2009…

  • The Alliance fully supports artistic freedom and has never protested the casting of Abigail Breslin in The Miracle Worker. We support the creative freedom that all artists bring to the casting process. However, it was our disappointment not with the selection, but the process in which the production selected Ms. Breslin, an actor of immense talent, that required that we speak. It would be our hope that the producers of work such as The Miracle Worker consider in their casting process actors from the communities we service, actors who could also bring significant breadth and depth to the role. That is our hope for the future of this project, this role, and other roles and projects in this same position — consider those in the community represented on-stage. And to be clear, it is not and never has been our position to call for the firing of any actor and we only wish Ms. Breslin the best in her Broadway debut.

    The Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts