Because it’s 2016: thanks very much

Natalie Wood, Latino representation

Natalie Wood’s performance as Maria in West Side Story provides a strong argument against “brown-face”.

On Monday night, I attended “BECAUSE IT’S 2016: An Open Invitation from the Latino Theatre Community to Discuss Representation”.

The forum arose out of a controversy about the casting of Haberdashery Theatre’s upcoming production of The Motherfucker with the Hat. There are three Latino characters in that play, but, originally, the group of artists who initiated the production didn’t cast any Latinos. Now, there’s one Latino, Francisco Trujillo, in the show.

I really, really appreciated how respectful and nuanced the discussion was—and how vulnerable a number of individuals allowed themselves to be. It took guts for Pedro Chamale and Carmen Aguirre to call the event. And I admire John Cassini from Haberdashery Theatre for showing up, taking responsibility, and sharing his side of the story. Jay Dodge, who was asked to moderate at the last minute, negotiated the evening with welcome intelligence and calm. 

“BECAUSE IT’S 2016” gave me lots to think about in terms of ethnicity, race, representation, artistic freedom, and opportunities to work and create. Personally, I’m struggling with the notion of blood memory, which a couple of people brought up, and I’d welcome the opportunity to chat about that, in a personal rather than public way, with anybody who’s interested.

And I’m looking forward to seeing The Motherfucker with the Hat, which runs at the Firehall January 21 to 30, and features a strong cast including Lori Triolo. As playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis wrote in a letter to Triolo, “the process may have been imperfect,” but “I support the actors and the production…and I hope good comes out of both the production and the controversy…”

I’m not quoting Guirgis to take sides, and I take Aguirre’s point, which she raised at the forum, that he didn’t talk to her or to Chamale before he made that statement. But, for me at least, great volumes of good are already coming out of this controversy. May those benefits continue to flow.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.


  1. I think Guirgis meant he supported this Production happening and not being shut down….not that he supported them VS. the people who wrote the open letter. I also thought it was an important conversation and hopefully some positive actions arise from it, like maybe a Latino Music and Theatre Festival down the road (I’d go….maybe the Straight could offer to be a media sponsor to help get things rolling) and maybe Carmen and her Mom Carmen could co-mentor a writers group for Latinos and other Actors of colour to create new works. (These new works could be read at the Cold Reading Series which would provide a place for healing between Haberdashery and the Latino community) I would support those ideas in any way possible.

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