A Statement from APT about "Blood Knot" Casting

Posted June 21, 2018 By APT

APT has been working toward producing Athol Fugard’s play Blood Knot for more than two years. We’re producing it now, in 2018, because it’s a powerful, difficult, poetic allegory about race, and that is a conversation we want to bring to our stage and our audience.

We appreciate the feedback that we are hearing, and we understand that there is a history of casting white people in roles written for actors of color. We agree that this is wrong. We acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done to create more equal opportunities for people of color on our American stages. This knowledge led us to a myriad of conversations around the casting of the play. The board supported this casting. We recognized the complexity, in 2018, of casting the play as it was intended – to have a white man and a black man play brothers. We had conversations with people of color – people within the company, as well as with other artists and collaborators. We talked through the casting from a number of angles, and looked at it through a number of lenses. Not all of them lined up. But in the end, enough of them did that we felt that this is the story we needed to tell, and this is the way we needed to tell it – with a black actor and a white actor playing brothers, and that we needed to embrace fully all of the racial implications this metaphor brings with it.

Prior to this production, we corresponded with Mr. Fugard specifically about this casting choice in 2018, of which he was supportive. We are hopeful that he will grant permission to share that correspondence with the public. Until then, we will say that APT’s approach to this play was intended to honor Mr. Fugard’s intention that Blood Knot is an extended metaphor - a white and black body having come from the same mother, enhancing the fact that race is but a construct. The play is poetic, not literal. Allegorical, not biological, which gives the story its startling power. It is a play about black and white relations.  

Given that APT is a classical, language-based company, it can be challenging finding plays which are relevant to global events and at the same time true to our theater’s roots and mission. How do we choose plays that take on difficult conversations around race when we’re working primarily from a classical canon? Blood Knot provides an entry into that conversation that feels true to both our goals of taking on the topic of race, and our commitment to classical theater and language.

We also went into this production knowing that the conversation wasn’t going to be easy. With that in mind, artistic staff brought together a group of artists to work on this production who are passionate about this work, this play, and about producing it for this audience. We have attempted to approach this production with the utmost care and consideration, and spent hours engaging with different points of view.

Casting a white actor in the role of Morris means that when racial tensions inevitably explode into violence late in the play, there’s no escape hatch that might allow a white audience to distance themselves from that violence and from those choices. With a white actor in that role, it’s less likely for a white audience to say to themselves and to each other “That’s horrible, but that’s not me.”

Having a white actor in the role makes Morris a metaphor which embodies the potential action that any white person could realistically take – because whiteness provides them with the sense of power and privilege to take what they want. A white man in the role of Morris can act as an indictment of white people’s collective ability to make heinous choices when they wield that power over someone of a different race.

That’s an explanation of some of the thoughts and intentions that were at play when we decided to produce Blood Knot. They are still our intentions now that the play is open. We value both the art and the conversation, and understand that people may – and do – disagree. And those viewpoints are also important and necessary to continue this very complex, very difficult and too-long ignored conversation. Only through such conversations can the arts continue to be a powerful voice on the issue of race in the stories we tell - and race in America, and in the world - going forward, during a time where those conversations are vitally important.

See also:

A Letter from Blood Knot playwright, Athol Fugard

A Statement on Blood Knot casting from Actor Gavin Lawrence

A Statement from Blood Knot Director Ron OJ Parson