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Royal Shakespeare Co. criticized over casting of Chinese play

ChinaHans Christian AndersenDavid Henry HwangTony AwardsDuncan Sheik

One of the most prominent theater companies in England has found itself under fire for its casting of a classic Chinese play. The Royal Shakespeare Co. in Stratford-upon-Avon is being criticized for casting just three actors of Asian descent in the ensemble cast of "The Orphan of Zhao," one of the most famous plays in Chinese history.

The RSC's production, directed by Gregory Doran and adapted by James Fenton, features a multicultural cast of 17 performers. Most of the principal characters -- including the title role -- will be played by non-Asian actors.

In recent days, the production has come under criticism on blogs and social-media sites, including a Tweet from playwright David Henry Hwang. Hwang wrote that the RSC staging puts an "Asian kid on poster, but casts Asian actors only as dogs & a maid."

Hwang also issued a joint statement with the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, in which they said that "the RSC seeks to exploit the public's growing interest in China; through its casting choices, the company reveals that its commitment to Asia is only skin-deep."

The RSC said on its Facebook page that the company is "always aiming to reflect the diverse population of the UK on our stages and we make considerable efforts to audition actors from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds."

The company said it "cast the best people available for the range of roles required." It said actors from the production are cross-cast in other productions this season in plays by Pushkin and Brecht.

"The Orphan of Zhao" is scheduled to begin performances Oct. 30. 

The backlash at the RSC comes a few months after a similar casting controversy at the La Jolla Playhouse. In July, the company was criticized for its casting of the new musical "The Nightingale," based on the Hans Christian Andersen story and set in ancient China.

"The Nightingale," written by the Tony Award-winning "Spring Awakening" team of Duncan Sheik and Steve Sater, featured an ensemble cast of 12 actors, two of whom were of Asian descent.  

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