Open Forum

Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

  • 1.  Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-17-2019 21:16
    I am directing The Diary of Anne Frank this winter, and I am struggling with whether to do colorblind casting. With a historical piece like this one, the usual answer is to cast it with caucasian actors since the characters would have been. But I have an African-American actress that might be really good in one of the roles. Has anyone done the play with actors of color? BTW, I am Jewish, so I understand the religious implications, though there are Jews of color. Thanks for your help.

    Andy Simon
    Theater Teacher
    Naperville North High School
    Naperville, IL

  • 2.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-18-2019 04:26
    I once directed the play with a few cast members if color. It did not seem to bother anyone.

  • 3.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-18-2019 05:31
    We had an African-American Otto Frank and Miep. They were the best actors for the roles. No one had any problem with the casting. In a talkback with the audience, the student who played Otto, responding to a question about how he prepared for the role, said that he understands what it's like to be an "other", to be afraid of the police, and to seek comfort from his family. While the story is specifically about Jews in Europe during the Nazi occupation, the themes are pretty universal. 

  • 4.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-18-2019 06:06
    My Miep was African American. No issues.

    Garry Tiller
    Theatre Arts Teaching Artist
    Sidwell Friends
    Washington, DC

  • 5.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-18-2019 07:11
    I am a believer in color-blind casting for all middle-school and HS productions. We have a limited casting pool, and our purpose is to offer opportunities to students, expose them to different ideas and work together to put on a great show.

    Go go with your best audition, and best of luck!

    Jen Stover
    Director, Souhegan Drama
    Souhegan High School
    Amherst, NH

  • 6.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-18-2019 07:55
    I encourage you to use "non-traditional casting" and have seen it done with great success in dozens of productions of a similar play about the Holocaust, my own script, Letters to Sala.

    At the College of Charleston, in the last workshop production of Letters to Sala before publication by Dramatists Play Service, we cast an African-American as an historic figure, Ala Gertner, not only because the director and I believe in colorblind casting but because the actress clearly gave the best audition for the role. I've seen a very fine community college production with a cast of African-American, Pacific Islander, Asian, Latino and European-American students. And from the photos sent to me and from Skyping in with teachers and students I know that directors at many colleges, high schools and middle schools, in addition to casting colorblind, also cast a range of body types for the scenes in the work camps, some of which occur very late in the war. Letters to Sala goes back and forth between the years in the camps and the near present; I've even seen the NYC family unit -- Sala and her daughter and granddaughters -- also cast with a range of ethnic types. If the actors are truthful to the text and the characters' objectives, the story holds up regardless of actors' ability, skin color or eye color or hair color or weight... or age.

    I assume you are not using age-appropriate actors and that they are not speaking German. So why worry about actor ethnicity? In addition to sending a very important message to your students and community, you will have the pleasure of working with an actress you are excited about.

    Ann Kirschner, who is Sala's daughter, and I discussed this early on and she embraces colorblind casting as well. The DPS printed script says:

    "The playwright encourages the use of nontraditional casting. There were some 60,000 Africans living in Germany at the time of the Holocaust, in addition to Roma and other ethnic groups; many of them ended up in the camps."

    Wishing you all the best with your production!

    Arlene Hutton, playwright
    Letters to Sala
    I Dream Before I Take the Stand
    Kissed the Girls & Made Them Cry
    As It Is In Heaven
    Susie Sits Shiva (EdTA commission)

    faculty, The Barrow Group, NYC

  • 7.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-18-2019 10:04
    I have seen several high school productions with racial mixed casts.  In the most diversified cast, everyone in the Frank family was different.  There was a moment of "What??" and then it worked!  Good acting is good acting and a believable family is family.  Go for it!!

    Marilynn Zeljeznjak
    Blacksburg VA

  • 8.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-18-2019 10:04
    I did this pieces a dozen years ago and did a color blind cast. It was actually a very diverse group and was wonderfully received. I almost always advocate colorblind casting in high school (although there are definitely some pieces where I think it's inappropriate and stay away from unless I have the actors needed).

    Shira Schwartz
    Chandler Unified School District
    Chandler AZ

  • 9.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-18-2019 10:08
    I thought It might be very interesting to cast a hispanic family  and make the connection between ice invasions and nazi invasions.  I don't have the ethnicity to do much of anything unfortunately, however it might be provocative.

    Jennifer Hemme
    Henderson NV

  • 10.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-18-2019 11:31
    I did this show with actors of color included, and I felt it was not a problem.  I think in film there might be more pressure to be historically accurate, but the stage is a place for humanity and imagination.  It will work.  I did this before Hamilton incidentally, and i think that show has changed how the landscape is perceived.

    Greg Newman
    Drama Teacher
    Riverside CA

  • 11.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-18-2019 14:58
    I have always felt that the faces on stage should reflect the faces in the audience. Cast the best actors in the roles. The audience will figure it out easily enough. If you are worried about cultural sensitivity, you can write a nice note in the program.

    Billy Houck

  • 12.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-18-2019 21:06
    We did this as our winter Black Box show last year, and cast several students of color - including a half-Asian Anne, an African American Mrs. Van Daam, and an Indian Miep.  The production was beautiful, the students learned so much, and no one seemed to mind the colorblind casting at all!

    Karen Ruth
    Head Theatre Director
    Coppell High School
    Coppell, TX

  • 13.  RE: Non-traditional casting in Anne Frank

    Posted 11-21-2019 22:52
    My friend Stan Zimmerman (proud Thespian alum and writer/producer of Golden Girls, Rosanne, Gilmore Girls) just wrapped up a Latinx version of The Diary of Anne Frank in Los Angeles.

    Check out the articles here-


    Krista Carson Elhai
    CA Educational Theatre Association, Past President
    CA Thespians Director of Membership & New Teacher Outreach
    Theatre Chair Claremont HS
    An International Baccalaureate World School
    Claremont CA