Aisha Jackson and Noah J. Ricketts, two alums of Disney’s musical adaptation of Frozen, have launched a new social media campaign encouraging fellow artists of color to raise their voices in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The mission of the #TheaterInColor campaign is two-fold: to give people space to share their reality as a person of color in the theatre industry, and to express their hopes for the future of the community moving forward.
“By daring to be brave and speak up about the racism we’ve endured, we are holding a mirror to our theatrical community,” the two say. “We want to hear from musicians, actors, directors, stage managers, and stagehands of color. We want stories to pour in from all departments of our industry.”
Jackson, who was the original standby for the role of Anna, shared the hurt caused by comments she would see regarding her playing a role originally portrayed as white, and highlighted the industry’s responsibility to combat those perceptions. “Time and time again, our industry paints us in a certain picture,” she said. “This is a problem. You are perpetuating that our white counterparts are more important and deserve to lead the show and deserve to have these three-dimensional characters, but we don’t. It tells our audience, ‘This is what you should always expect.’ So when they see me come out, they go, ‘Oh, that’s wrong.’ Because you’ve told them that it’s wrong time and time again.”
She ends with a challenge to creatives: “Don’t just see all ethnicities for the part. Hire all ethnicities for the part…Not everything has to be about our color, but we want you to pay attention to it. Colorblind casting? No. Casting. That’s what it is.”
Ricketts, who understudied the role of Kristoff before taking over full-time in 2019, recalled having a photo of him on Frozen’s front-of-house at the St. James Theatre defaced twice, and in those moments seeing himself surrounded by the unscathed faces of white principals in his show and those in the venues around him. “I want to see a hell of a lot more people of color in principal roles on Broadway, telling the story and changing the audiences’ perceptions of what can be,” he added.
The pair, who first shared the stage in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, have also provided graphics to accompany participants’ entries, encouraging others to record videos or post written accounts.
Among those who have joined in so far are fellow Frozen alum Jelani Aladdin, Jessie Hooker-Bailey (Waitress), and Raymond J. Lee (Groundhog Day).
Frozen opened on Broadway in March 2018, going on to play the St. James Theatre until March 12 this year, when it and all other productions shut down due to the coronavirus crisis. Two months later, Disney announced that the show would not re-open post-pandemic.
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People said that Anna couldn’t be Black. Most of those people just had closed minds. But our industry continuously encourages them to keep their minds closed. They do so by giving our white counterparts more opportunities to be front and center than they give us. People of color deserve the same opportunities to take on 3 dimensional characters and LEAD the show. Don’t just audition all ethnicities for the role. HIRE ALL ETHNICITIES. See my color. Accept me for it. And hire me because I deserve the job. Show the audience members that we are right too. #TheaterInColor . . . To my POC community, if you want to share your story and your vision for moving forward, click the link in my bio and download the graphics+instructions. Let’s raise our voices and stand together.