The Theater Flipping the Script on Race

As a young Black actor on Broadway, Janeece Freeman Clark frequently encountered typecasting and prejudice during auditions.   

“The casting director or director would say, ‘Can you do it again and this time can you be more “street” or more “urban.”‘ Sometimes they would have the audacity to say, ‘Can you be more Black?’” Freeman Clark said. “It was hurtful. It was painful.” 

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Now Freeman Clark runs her own adult and youth theater, Vanguard Theater Company, in Montclair, New Jersey, where professionals and students from diverse backgrounds take part in productions, summer camps and mentorship programs. She encourages performers to take on roles that would traditionally be played by someone of a different age, race or gender, as seen in their recent productions of “Next to Normal,” “Spring Awakening” and “Legally Blonde.”  

The leading role of “Legally Blonde,” Elle Woods, is usually played by a white actor, but Vanguard had two women of color, Gabby Beredo and Nia Rodriguez, sharing the role.  

“I think Elle can be blonde and be half-Puerto Rican, half-Black. That can definitely be very, very powerful,” Rodriguez said.  

“It’s so empowering to see two women of color playing such an iconic role,” Beredo said. “We are ready to be in these spaces.” 

Check out the video above to see how Vanguard’s youth theater program “flips the script” on casting. Learn more about the Vanguard Theater Company here