High School Musical Canceled Over Alleged Casting Bias

After a white student was cast as Esmeralda in a 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' production, folks made a fuss — and now it's gone

by Michele Blood | Updated 09 Feb 2018 at 4:58 PM

It’s a group you’ve probably never heard of — Students United Ithaca — but they’ve now done something to which a large part of the country will be reacting for some time to come.

When a white student was cast in the lead role of Esmeralda in the musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” some other students at Ithaca High School in Ithaca, New York, and their parents set out to shut down the production in protest.

They succeeded.

A group called Students United Ithaca spearheaded the effort.

“It shows you that theater wasn’t made for you,” Maddi Carroll, 17, an African-American senior who quit the production, said to the Ithaca Journal. “And it shows you that if you can’t get the parts that are written for you, what parts are you going to get?”

Interestingly, social media commentary on the group’s Facebook page after the school’s announcement provided anything but sanctuary for the young outspoken thespians and their parents.

The letters from the group protesting the casting choices include one that detailed 10 specific demands.

They wanted the entire show recast or canceled. The group also demanded replacing Robert Winans, the director of the middle school and high school musicals, with Joey Steinhagen, an outside director, as the Ithaca Journal reported.

Ithaca's Board of Education offered the following statement on its website about the ultimate outcome of the debacle.

The active community engagement and conversation about the selection of The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the Ithaca High School musical has led to many conversations in our school district. This dialogue has affirmed our observations and wishes to have a more inclusive and culturally responsive learning community. In short, our efforts to eliminate institutional biases are ongoing ...

In lieu of the planned musical, another collaborative project will provide young people and our community the opportunity to engage together while fully expressing the talents of our students. A new project is currently being discussed by students, families, and educators. This project will also engage the talents and skills of students previously cast. More information will follow shortly.

The director of the musical, Robert Winans, referred LifeZette's inquiry to David Brown, director of Fine and Performing Arts for the Ithaca City School District.

Invitations to comment to David Brown and to representatives of Fine Arts Booster Group, a nonprofit organization that partners with the district to support arts-related activities, were not returned.

Members of the group told Fox News that "their ultimate goal is in line with Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of love, unity, understanding, and inclusion," a Fox News piece noted.

“Our endgame,” the group told the news outlet, "is a performing arts program with more unity, more inclusion, and musical where we can all experience the joy and bonding of inclusive performing arts following best theatrical practices.”

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette. This article has been updated. 

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