4 Emerging NMT Character Roles
If I were to say that the last few seasons on Broadway have been revolutionary, I don’t believe that many would disagree. The landscape is slowly changing with the goal of meeting every new challenge the world throws its way, and because of this, the theatre world is full of new and wonderful possibilities for fresh, original characters to inhabit the world a playwright or composer creates.
Looking at the vast and honestly overwhelming amount of characters that already live within the genre of musical theatre, it is easy to see that we are sadly lacking representation for many types of people. While some steps have been taken recently to represent these types of people on the theatrical stage, the demand for equally represented characters will not end until such characters are as prevalent on stage as superheroes are in Hollywood.
Here are some groups of people who would benefit from some modern musical theatre representation:
1. LGBTQ+ people
Musical theatre was built on the backs of LGBTQ+ people, so why are we not representing them proportionately against cisgender, straight characters? Gay musicals are not unheard of, so we know that both LGBTQ+ and straight audiences will support them. Gay men are under-represented in musical theatre, but they are still more prevalent than bisexual and lesbian people. More characters that represent all of those that fall under the LGBTQ+ banner would be fantastic, regardless of sexual or gender identity.
2. People with physical disabilities
Representing people with physical disabilities through new characters and stories is an important step but it’s only the beginning of how theatre could lead the charge forward in allowing physically disabled people to be part of entertainment. In addition to creating new and relevant content, we also need to look at our past catalogue and begin to hire actors with disabilities to play those roles, integrating their level of ability or disability into the characters we already know and love. While plays have a few notable characters with physical disabilities, musicals have largely ignored them, and it would be wonderful to see the world of the stage more closely reflect that of real life. For an example of how musical theatre and disability can work together to create a beautiful experience, take a look at this video from the current Deaf West Theatre production of Spring Awakening, in which deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people work together to tell a story.
3. Plus size people
Plus size people exist, so it would be fantastic to start representing them in theatre. Their stories are exactly the same as that of skinny/average-size people, and it is utterly ridiculous that musical theatre is held down by the same opinion of traditional beauty that plagues film and television. The world that musical theatre inhabits is strange in itself – it involves people singing and dancing their way through scenarios, and the audience is trusted to suspend their disbelief. Should a larger actor or actress playing a role in a musical really be considered “strange” in the world of musicals? It’s high time that everyone from producers through to casting directors stood up to our culture of fat shaming. Tracy Turnblad is gorgeous… but there is only one of her.
4. Any ethnicity, culture, race, religion or color that is not Caucasian
Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Spanish, African-American, Native American… These are only a small portion of the many people that musical theatre (and most popular media) largely ignores. The creation of non-traditional/colorblind casting brought with it a new era in theatrical representation, but it is nowhere near enough to right the awful imbalance musical theatre has towards Caucasian American stories and actors. Non-traditional casting is one thing, but creating actual roles that represent both historical and fictional stories concerning aspects of different cultures is another altogether. As an example, Allegiance (soon to come to Broadway) tells the story of Japanese-American people during the internment period of World War II, a subject so far unexplored in mainstream musical theatre. Non-Caucasian actors deserve work, especially work that respects and represents them.
Modern musical theatre has the chance to break barriers and to truly represent all people. The examples used within this article barely scrape the barrel of those that deserve a better chance in the industry, and doesn’t even make mention of the representation needed behind the scenes – we have a long way to go, but we can and will do it.