Caste-ing, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

by Laura Kressly

Nouveau Riche, creators of the hit show Queens of Sheba that confronts systemically ingrained misogynoir, now focus on the experience of being a Black woman actor. Using music, beatboxing and spoken word to expose the microaggressions and racism that shape their working lives, the show is a rallying cry for change within theatre and film.

The montage of short scenes and monologues each depicts a specific scenario or issue that Black women encounter whilst auditioning or working. These range from discrimination against darker skin tones, to white stylists who aren’t skilled enough to do Black hair and makeup, to the types of characters they are most often asked to portray. It’s evident by the range and number of examples that this is a major problem infringing on the rights of Black women actors to do their jobs without encountering racial violence.

Driving these stories is a mix of anger, resentment and desperation for justice, communicated through a combination of speech and music. Some are completely sung or rapped, some are spoken, others are both. The ensemble of three work together in conversation and take on multiple roles, effectively showing just how widespread these problems are and the attitudes of those in positions of power within the industry. The humour and grace with which they share their experiences is extremely generous given the frequency and scale of the problem – it would understandable if they spent the entire show in a rage.

White Western theatre’s dominant Aristotelian plot structure is largely rejected in favour of one more musical. This is far more like a gig, with each song/scene adding to the list of wrongs they experienced. The power is in the cumulative rather than a single climax, and it’s a canny choice to reject white storytelling structures. Let’s hope industry leaders listen.

Caste-ing runs through 28 August.

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