Members of the creative team behind the Abbey Theatre’s 2022 production An Octoroon have taken issue with the shortlist for The Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards 2022, in which the play has three nominations.
Their objection relates to the shortlisting of two white actors for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, in a production whose cast consisted predominantly of actors of colour. The play is also nominated for Best Production.
An Octoroon is a radical reboot of Irish playwright Dion Boucicault’s 1859 play The Octoroon, using racial comedy and caricatures. Chris McCormack’s five-star review for The Irish Times in April described it as a “magnificent play ... a masterpiece”.
The team’s statement describes the staging of the play as “a groundbreaking moment: Ireland’s first mainstage production with a majority non-white cast, the first black director on The Abbey stage, and a text which unabashedly tackles race and racism, both in its historic and contemporary guises”.
However, the team said the nominations do not represent today’s Ireland. “Although the cast of An Octoroon was made up of a majority of people of colour (8/10), a decision was made to only recognise the two white actors for nominations among all the individuals in the cast and creative team. We believe this is unacceptable. It is worth noting that all 16 acting nominations are white.”
The statement said the team did not wish to minimise the achievement of the white cast members or undermine their performances. However, it highlighted what it termed a lack of recognition for the work of actors “from the global majority”.
“It is a painful irony given that the play depicts the exploitation of people of colour in the face of structural racism,” it said.
The six cosignatories have called for a “more expansive” and diverse judging panel, as well as transparency in the selection process.
“We hope that our production will continue to provoke questions surrounding diversity, representation and inclusion in Irish theatre.”
The statement is signed by members of the production team including Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, Anthony Simpson-Pike, Choy-Ping Clarke-Ng, Esosa Ighodaro, Giles Thomas and Molly O’Cathain.
A statement from the Abbey Theatre said that following the announcement of the nominations, there have been discussions within the industry “around omissions in general and race representation and bias in particular”.
“These conversations highlight the fact that we as an industry need to work harder to ensure more diversity and better representation in all critical platforms and panels moving forward,” it said.
“The Abbey Theatre is, and will continue to be, completely committed to this conversation through our programme and our wider engagement.”
A spokesperson for The Irish Times said it “respects the independence and integrity of the Irish Theatre Awards judges. The awards represent the long-standing commitment of The Irish Times to theatre-making as a vital, central part of Irish culture and society.
“As the country changes and becomes more diverse, so does theatre as an art form. The Irish Times is committed to reflecting that diversity by constantly reviewing its selection processes and policies.”
The Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards will be presented on Sunday, March 26th.