Kent State University in Ohio has canceled their fall musical production of the famed West Side Story due to complaints that too many white students landed lead roles.
According to reports, of the three Latin leading roles, none were given to Latin students, including the lead role of the Puerto Rican Maria.
KentWired, Kent State University’s student newspaper, says that while “several” white students were cast in Latin supporting roles, some Latin students who auditioned were not given any role in the show.
In addition to the casting choices, students are frustrated by the theater department rules that force them to accept the role they are given.
If a student declines the role they are given, they are put on probation, meaning they may not participate in School of Theatre and Dance productions or outside productions.
Senior theater major Viviana Cardenas, 21, also identifies as Latina. She got a callback for the role of Anita, another Puerto Rican lead role, but an African-American student got the part instead.
“It’s more than just getting a role,” said Cardenas, whose father is from Ecuador. “I don’t get to tell other people’s stories because of the color of my skin, but yet when there is this story that is about people of cultures like me, about people of color like me, and that gets taken away from me … that was the most heartbreaking.”
“If they didn’t have this diverse cast in mind, and if they didn’t think that we as the Latino students could fulfill these lead roles, why did they continue on with the show that they picked?” she said.
Eric van Baars, the School of Theatre and Dance director at Kent State, has since decided to cancel the production of West Side Story replaced it with a production of Children Of Eden.
West Side Story, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, takes place in 1960s New York City, where two rival gangs — the Polish-American “Jets” and the Puerto Rican “Sharks” — fight for control over the West Side streets.