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The Viewer

Mounds View High School's student news site.

The Viewer

Mounds View High School's student news site.

The Viewer

Mounds View High School's student news site.

The Viewer

Mounds View Theater casting sparks controversy

The recent casting for the Cinderella musical has sparked conflict within the department and scrutiny towards the director of the program, raising questions about the ethicality of casting white actors in traditionally non-white roles.
Mounds+View+Theaters+production+of+Shrek+the+Musical+in+2022.+
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Mounds View Theater’s production of Shrek the Musical in 2022.

By request, some student sources are kept anonymous to protect their position in the theater program or to prevent scrutiny. Anonymous sources are each provided with a different number for differentiation.

Soon to end his second year as director of Mounds View’s theater program, Irondale graduate Matthew Van Bruggen has recently faced controversy following the decision to cast white actresses for lead roles over Black actresses.

The controversy

The spring musical, based on the 1997 live-action Cinderella starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, is often cast with two Black leads, as in the film. “We have the Enchanted version, which is the one based on the ‘90s movie, which was such a landmark for Black people in media,” said Theater Member 1. “Brandy was our first Black Cinderella, [our] first Black princess. That was such a big thing for representation, especially in the United States.”

I remember me and other Black members of the cast, we were so excited that this was, this was our time, this is our time to shine. Usually, there’s no representation in our theater department.

— Natavia Griffin, '25

Upon the announcement of the spring musical, many looked forward to a chance to showcase that representation on Mounds View’s stage. “I remember me and other Black members of the cast, we were so excited that this was, this was our time, this is our time to shine. Usually, there’s no representation in our theater department,” said junior Natavia Griffin.

It seems that the writers of the musical also intended for the show to feature a diverse cast. The beginning of the script contains an inclusion statement: “In this show, the race of the characters is not pivotal to the plot. We encourage you to consider diversity and inclusion in your casting choices.”

Three Black actresses, Griffin, junior Zariyah Howell and junior Jayda McAdams, auditioned for roles in the cast. None of them got speaking roles, and both Griffin and McAdams were instead cast as understudies. Griffin has since decided to drop that role. “I dropped the understudy role […] because the representation and toxicity […] and just the fact that I would have to be at every single practice that Cinderella was at.” Senior Hridaya Ghosh, who was cast as Fairy Godmother, was the only person of color cast in a speaking role. 

The decision to select this particular version of Cinderella, without opting for diverse casting, has led to questioning of Van Bruggen’s motives. “[Diverse casting] is not a requirement for the show, of course, but I just think it’s kind of weird. Why would you choose that specific show?” said Theater Member 2.

Van Bruggen responded to these comments, claiming that the Enchanted version was chosen to offer a “fresh and captivating experience” for the actors and audience. “It aligns with our goal of presenting productions that are both entertaining and meaningful, allowing students to explore timeless themes such as kindness, resilience and the power of dreams,” he said.

In response to criticism of the casting choice, Van Bruggen said, “I understand and deeply respect the concerns raised about representation in our production of Cinderella. It’s important to acknowledge the significance of this version for Black representation, and I want to assure everyone that our casting decisions were made to strive to provide opportunities for all students, regardless of race, to showcase their talents and be part of our productions. I am committed to listening to feedback, learning from this experience, and implementing changes to ensure all students feel seen, heard, and valued in our future productions.”

“Typecasting”

Many theater students believe that the artistic team had a cast planned before auditions even took place. “[Van Bruggen] chose this version with a specific person in mind to be Cinderella that is a white person. And that just feels really racist to me,” said Theater Member 3. 

According to some theater students, casting choices have been controversial before this show, accusing the artistic team of typecasting, a common concern in the industry, which refers to casting actors in roles that closely resemble ones they have played before.

“If you look at previous cast lists, it is the most typecasted. This show especially. I knew every single person […] what role they were gonna get. It’s kind of insane,” said Theater Member 2. “It’s the same exact people every time, and it’s not like they’re the only people auditioning. There’s a lot of other talented people auditioning.”

Van Bruggen responded to these allegations, stating, “As this is only my second year as the director, I have cast a total of four productions since I began. As shared with those auditioning, all shows have been cast by a team of people to include the assistant director, music director and choreographer, depending on the production.”

Principal Reetz’s response

In response to the tension, Principal Rob Reetz explained how he met with the cast to discuss dignity as a value of Mounds View and how he views gossip as a dignity violation. While he anticipated everyone involved in the spring musical would be there, it turned out to solely be the cast. Van Bruggen was also not present. 

Reetz explained how he isn’t in a position to involve himself in the casting decisions and still believes those who were cast are “incredibly talented and worthy of the role they got.” “I would never tell a coach who to start. I would never tell a theater director who to cast,” he said.

If I’m in a position of choosing these things, given the training I’ve had, the lens I have on wanting to create an inclusive school, I may have done some things differently.

— Robert Reetz, principal

Still, like most, Reetz acknowledges the argument against the casting choice. “If I’m in a position of choosing these things, given the training I’ve had, the lens I have on wanting to create an inclusive school, I may have done some things differently.”

Many students involved in theater have not brought their complaints to administrators, citing fear of punishment from Van Bruggen, including losing their roles. “I have been too scared, to be completely honest, because I do not want to jeopardize my role in this production,” said Theater Member 1.  

Nevertheless, Reetz said that feedback would be necessary for any action against Van Bruggen. “If people are concerned, they should come talk to both myself and Mr. Galvin. Because at the end of the day, those are the two people that want to know what the student experience is like,” he said. Additionally, Reetz highlighted the significance of the seasonal activity surveys sent to students and parents in evaluating leadership.

It is important to note that few theater members deny that senior Eva Manrodt, who was cast as Cinderella, is undeserving of her role. “I defend the people in the cast in their roles. I do believe that those people are deserving of their roles,” said Theater Member 4. 

While there is a minority of students who approve of his leadership, most want to see Van Bruggen take accountability for the casting decisions. “The problem has never been anyone in the cast […] it is literally only Mr. Van Bruggen,” said Theater Member 1. 

This story may be developing and could be updated on mvviewer.org.

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Maya Gjelhaug, Print Editor-in-Chief
My name is Maya, and I'm excited to be one of your print Editors-in-Chief this year. When I'm not editing articles, you can find me mountain biking and watching Band of Brothers with my dad. Awards: Best of SNO - Mounds View Theater casting sparks controversy Best of SNO - The downfall of ELA education Best of SNO - Pro-life activists rally against Minnesota abortion legislation Best of SNO - Prince of Peace Church combats homelessness with tiny home settlement Best of SNO - Should legacy admissions still exist? 2nd-Place Gold Medallion Spread - Youth sports culture SNO Site Excellence Design Award SNO Page Excellence Award
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Hello! I am thrilled to be a print Editor-in-Chief for my third year on The Viewer. Outside of The Viewer, I am a captain of the Mounds View Boys Swim and Dive team. Feel free to reach out to me directly at [email protected]. Awards:  Best of SNO - Mounds View Theater casting sparks controversy Best of SNO - Pro-life activists rally against Minnesota abortion legislation Best of SNO - From Mounds View to the MN Supreme Court: Chief Justice Hudson's distinguished career Journalism Day at The Guthrie runner up - ‘Dial M for Murder’ Revitalizes Hitchcock’s Classic at the Guthrie
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    Angelita Los ReyesApr 9, 2024 at 1:20 pm

    Casting depends on talent. There are no white roles or black roles. Whomever is the best for the role gets it. I am so tired of people using racism, regardless of people of color or white people claiming reverse racism, when things don’t go one’s way or happen how they would like. I came off the bench for my high school basketball team. As a person of color, I recognize myself that I should not have been a starter to have “representation.” I didn’t claim racism because it wasn’t racism. If I was like these 3 salty juniors I would have said coach was racist because we were playing a sport dominated by people of color and therefore I should be a starter with guaranteed minutes per game. Then quit when asked to develop my skills and talents on the JV team and come off the bench for varsity. There were more skilled athletes on the team that earned their starting positions. I could have put in more unglamorous work to be a better athlete and earn my spot as a starter. This is no different. If you want the leading role do better, be better, take more acting lessons, ask the Director how you can improve your chances at getting a lead role or speaking role. Giving up and not taking an understudy role is not how Brandy ever became successful. In a 100m dash race the fastest person wins, not the fastest white person or the fastest black person or the fastest Asian person etc. Therefore, a coach would put their fastest runners in the 100m dash. By participating in performing arts you are freely entering into an environment that is not as black and white as running a certain distance against the clock. The Director, based on their experience, chose the actors for roles based on their talents and auditions. This is not racist. What would be racist is if not all racial groups were allowed to AUDITION or participate in extracurricular activities. It is not okay to claim racism as an ace up your sleeve when things don’t go your way. Accusing someone of racism is a big deal and racism, when it actually happens, is not okay and not to be tolerated. The juniors mentioned are not the victims of racism in this scenario.

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