Non-traditional casting chosen for one-act staged readings
Of all the performance venues on ArtsQuest’s SteelStacks campus in Bethlehem, director Lynnie Godfrey finds that her favorite is the Fowler Blast Furnace Room.
“It’s a great space. I feel like I have to say I created the space that you see,” she says, laughing. “It’s a general room to hold weddings, receptions, corporate meetings, and so on. When we use it for these sorts of performances, we rebuild the stage and black out parts of the room and create an intimate setting.”
Godfrey has served on ArtsQuest boards since 2013, helping to bring theater to the non-profit organization.
Godfrey brings staged readings of two one-act plays, “The Son He Always Wanted” and “Home on the Range,” to the Fowler Blast Furnace Room, 7:30 p.m. June 13, ArtsQuest Center, SteelStacks, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem. A talk-back takes place after the performances.
The one-act plays were written by Bathsheba Monk, with characters and settings based on her book, “Nude Walker.”
What’s drawn attention to the works is what many consider to be non-traditional casting choices, with an African-American actor portraying two father figures, one character being Arab and the other Native-American.
“When we picked the plays, we knew that we would have an interesting time with the demographic due to the Arab and Native American themes,” says Godfrey. “We put out a casting call to the Arab community, and we really didn’t get any responses.
“We kept pressing on, and we had some amazing actors come in, actors who really personified the roles as human beings. And I realized, the key was to find actors that have that a thread of realism regarding fatherhood. I mean, isn’t fatherhood universal? So, we couldn’t find someone from the ethnic group. Let’s find the personality.”
For Godfrey, the idea of blindly conforming to traditional casting choices was simply never an option.
“My career is made up of non-traditional casting. It just wouldn’t have worked otherwise,” she explains.
“I’ve worked for a lot of brave people, and that’s what it really takes, bravery. It takes someone who can say, ‘I know what you expect. Trust me for a minute and see if it works for you also.’ As an actor, I still enjoy doing it, and as a director I will continue to do so when I possibly can.”
Godfrey’s impressive resume spans her Broadway debut in “Eubie!,” for which she received a Drama Desk nomination, to an AuDelCo Award for Outstanding Performance for her work in “Shuffle Along,” and multiple producing and directing awards.
The casting of the father figures was not the only non-traditional casting choice for the ArtsQuest staged readings.
“We have actors of various races and backgrounds playing a variety of different roles that in no way match their backgrounds. Is it that unbelievable? Can we see each other for that universal similarity, or are we so blind that all we see when we look at one another is the color of our skin?”
While Godfrey takes credit for these decisions, she clarifies that at no point was she making them alone.
“I take the bulk of the responsibility, but I always checked with [Monk] and said, ‘Are you good with that?’”
Only a couple of weeks before the performances, the cast was still ironing out some details in the scripts.
“It’s a work in progress, even up to the performance, and afterwards, too, when asking what audiences thought.
“It’s a part of why a reading series to me is so important. It’s the first and most important phase of the work. We hear whether or not the things put on the paper work.
“What you put into it, in my opinion, is the most important level of work you apply, because you don’t have props, costumes, a set. All you just have is the skill you bring to the stage.”
Being a well-versed actor and director, Godfrey sees these two pieces as an important statement on the state of theater today and what can be done when people are willing to open their minds to different possibilities.
“Actors, we train to do a lot of different things, to take on so many different roles, and it’s something I like to do when directing, too. Any actor should be able to portray whatever role they want if they’re good at it, no matter what race or gender.
“Theater is the one safe place where I can be anything. It’s been my life. I have a career that shows that it works, and for those of us who want to exercise that freedom, we should be able to.”
Tickets: artsquest.org, 610-332-3378