Kent State University cancels production of West Side Story after complaints that too many white students were cast in lead roles

Wednesday, October 3, 2018
By Paul Martin

Three lead roles in the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang, went to non-Latinos
Other students with Latino heritage were outraged at the casting choice
Production was cancelled and department will perform Children Of Eden instead

3 October 2018

A student production of West Side Story at Kent State University has been cancelled after uproar that white students had been cast to play Latino characters.

Latino students who auditioned for roles playing members of the ‘Sharks’, a Puerto Rican street gang in the musical, were outraged after the three leading roles all went to non-Latino students.

Kent State musical theater major Bridgett Martinez, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, auditioned for her dream role as the romantic lead Maria, and was devastated when a white student landed the part.

The musical, an adaptation of Romeo And Juliet, is set in 1950s New York City and tells the story of forbidden love between the leader of the Polish-American Jets and the sister of the Sharks’ leader.

‘I was just blown away because it was not correct at all,’ Martinez, 20, told student publication KentWired. ‘I saw myself as Maria.’

Instead, Martinez was cast as understudy for the role of Maria. ‘None of the three Latino leads were cast as Latino,’ she noted.

Theater major Viviana Cardenas, 21, auditioned for another leading role as Puerto Rican character Anita, but was disappointed when the role went to a black student.

Cardenas, who is president of the school’s Latin/x in Theater club, told the student outlet that she believed the professors had erred by failing to take ethnicity into account during casting.

‘I think the professors who made the decision wanted the best for the show, and that’s what they considered, and that’s it,’ she said. ‘I think there are more things that need to be considered than just that.’

The outcry prompted the theater department to hold a town-hall style meeting last month, overseen by officials from the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

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