By Grace Kitayama and Violet Maguire
On Sep. 28, the Theatre and Dance Department Chair Josh Machamer sent an email out to the department informing them that they were cancelling the fall production of “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” after the cast and crew had already begun rehearsing for the play. The cancellation was due to the fact that the department could not find enough diverse representation to accurately portray for the cast.
The play, originally written by Salman Rushdie, is a collection of stories that is loosely based in India. After being unable to find enough students of color to be cast in the show, Machamer, in consultation with the Theater and Dance department, made the decision to cancel the play.
“While there is no doubt that it is a beautiful story, full of imagination, energy, and thematic resonance, it is also a story imbued with a foundation of characters and cultural framework that our department can’t currently represent,” Machamer said in the email. “It would be disingenuous and inauthentic of us to move forward knowing full well that we are unable to truthfully and consciously represent the voices of those characters on stage.”
Plays for the fall production are chosen by the faculty prior to fall quarter. Machamer was not a part of the process to choose this play initially. He took an interim position as administrator for the department in January and did not start his position until the start of fall quarter.
“If you don’t have the people that are able to represent that cultural specificity that you’ve tied to the place, that you’ve tied the story to, then you can’t do it,” Machamer told Mustang News. “There’s clear cultural representation that’s a part of that. Not for a lack of trying, in the end the original cast was not able to represent that.”
Some students decided to drop the play, and the coinciding class, due to its cancelation.
All students who are involved in the play must enroll in Acting I (TH 220), which takes up about 20 hours a week for rehearsals.
Communications studies senior Jessica Meza — one of three students of color in what was a 12-person cast — dropped the class and said that she was infuriated when she heard of the cancelation.
“I [was] crying because I’m mad. We put a week of work into this and other faculty did as well beforehand,” Meza said. “So why couldn’t it have been stopped in the beginning when they saw that the cast wasn’t going to meet its expectation?”
Meza said she felt like she was not set up to succeed within the department and when speaking about how she felt with the other cast members of the play.
“We were listened to, we were given that space to talk, we were given that space to hear each other out,” Meza said. “But even that was infuriating in itself because there was a lot of the white cast talking more than the POC.”
Meza said she was upset about the cancellation because the decision to cancel was made after the cast had started rehearsals and only one day before the add/drop period for students.
“That is an urgent situation for many students and specifically for people of color, who rely on financial aid,” Meza said. “That was just not a good situation for me to be in at all, because it’s money out of my pocket. It’s money that I need to work hard for, that’s not given to me and or inherited to me if I was like, you know, coming in with everything possible for me. So, this was a money issue for me and this was definitely a timing thing for me.”
Senior computer science major Casey Koiwai said he was looking forward to being in the play since this would have been his last opportunity to be in a production. He said he was disappointed with the department’s decision to cancel.
“As one of the few POC who got casted — and potentially less who auditioned — I am unhinged at the department’s handling of the situation,” Koiwai wrote in an email to Mustang News. “I am disappointed in the lack of diverse education, and I am devastated for those who could not get in.”
Koiwai referenced other schools and programs that put on this play. He said some requested approval from the writer Salman Rushdie and invited him to see the show himself to “see what his work has inspired,” Koiwai said.
Koiwai, who helped pitch the play idea, saw potential in Cal Poly’s rendition. Now, Koiwai said he’s “heartbroken and just torn up” that this play was taken away.
“We had cast members who were looking forward to it — you had cast members who were diverse enough,” Koiwai said.
Though “Haroun” is cancelled, some of the cast is still on board to create something new that will aim to have a similar essence to “Haroun.”
“I’m not sure exactly how much I can reveal at this point, but as far as I understand, we are taking elements of stories, and trying to restructure them for our own production and at the same time trying to be conscientious of everything we’re saying and what we’re doing as we go along,” theater arts junior Taylor Wendell Lozano said.
Lozano has a history of working in and running community theaters, but this experience is new to him considering that now the department has less time to produce a new showcase.
“I’ve never devised with this kind of pressure,” Lozano said.
According to the Theater and Dance Department’s website, a new production is still set for Nov. 4-7 and Nov. 11-13.