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Edward Albee’s Estate pulls Virginia Woolf rights over black actor

A casting director in Portland, Oregon says the Edward Albee Estate attempted to force him to fire a black actor cast in the Shoebox Theatre’s upcoming production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. 

According to Michael Streeter’s Facebook post earlier this week, the Estate told him he must replace the black actor with a white one. When he refused, the Estate withdrew the rights for the production, due to play at the theatre in September.

Streeter had cast a black actor in the role of Nick, the young college professor who falls into Martha and George’s web late one night. There are references in the play to Nick’s blonde hair, and the character has been played exclusively by white actors in the past.

The Estate fired back with a memo to Streeter, which advised that he’d been in violation of the standard agreements by advertising the production before his casting had been approved.

According to Jezebelthe memo read: “Insofar as the Albee Estate had not approved the actor in question, you were in violation of the agreement by hiring him in the first place. The decision to ‘fire’ him was yours and yours alone by virtue of your own misstep.”

It continues:

“it is important to note that Mr. Albee wrote Nick as a Caucasian character, whose blonde hair and blue eyes are remarked on frequently in the play, even alluding to Nick’s likeness as that of an Aryan of Nazi racial ideology. Furthermore, Mr. Albee himself said on numerous occasions when approached with requests for non-traditional casting in productions of Virginia Woolf? that a mixed-race marriage between a Caucasian and an African-American would not have gone unacknowledged in conversations in that time and place and under the circumstances in which the play is expressly set by textual references in the 1960’s.”

The Estate insists on casting approval for all the productions it licences, and apparently has several specific stipulations, including that the actor playing Martha must actually be older than the actor playing George.

Another production of the play in Oregon, in 2002, featured a black actor, Andrea Frye, as Martha, although according to onstageblog.comthe producers were required to send Frye’s headshots to Albee for approval.

Albee himself, back in 2007, almost pulled the rights to Benedict Andrews’ production of the play for Belvoir in Sydney. The production featured a relatively bare set — and imposing glass walls — which didn’t reference the 1960s setting of the play as explicitly as Albee had hoped.

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