Featured image courtesy of Jan Versweyveld
Trigger warning: In this article, I discuss sexual assault, child sexual assault, rape, and other similar topics. If this might be triggering to you, I recommend clicking out of this article or proceeding with caution.
Some of you may have read that title and know exactly who I’m talking about. Others may not. Assuming no one does, let me break down the current situation for you.
In 2018, dancer / actor Amar Ramasar excitedly exchanged explicit text messages with another member of the New York City Ballet. But these weren’t any text messages; they were vulnerable images taken of female dancers in the NYC Ballet without their consent. Ramasar was eventually reinstated to the NYC Ballet after being fired, which is bad enough. Amidst this chaos, he was already performing in the 2018 Broadway revival of Carousel.
Now that you understand this basic backstory, what people are currently fired up about is Ramasar’s casting in the 2020 Broadway revival of West Side Story (which in itself has received poor press various reasons including for including a violent rape scene that wasn’t nearly as violent in the original staging of the classic musical).
Actors’ Equity has released a statement that doesn’t denounce the casting but rather says they will continue to monitor the situation to make sure the rest of the cast stays safe. (In my opinion, wouldn’t it just be easier to hire a non-predator who doesn’t pose a threat to the rest of the cast? But that’s none of my business.)
In addition, the management behind 2020’s West Side Story Broadway production has reaffirmed their support of Ramasar, saying that there’s no way they’re considering recasting his role. (It’s also important to note that it originally said “company,” not “management.”)
Due to his casting, there has been an outpouring of protest from the Broadway fan community. For example, there are regular protests outside the Broadway Theatre where West Side Story is currently playing. (Follow @wssprotest, linked below, for updates on protests.)
Something I’ve seen brought up on Twitter recently is that many reviews are outright ignoring the Ramasar situation and / or the ongoing protests. Click on the tweet below to read the whole thread.
This is nowhere near the first time a sexual predator has been given a platform on Broadway to the dismay of Broadway fans and to the ignorance of theatre reviewers. Just off the top of my head, known child molester James Barbour appeared in the 2008 Broadway production of A Tale Of Two Cities right after serving time for raping a 15 year-old. He was then featured as the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway for nearly three years (from February 2015 to December 2017).
So, why should you care about a sexual predator being on Broadway?
Well, simply based on the question itself, it should be self-explanatory. But based on what I’ve seen from many reporters and reviewers over the past few months (and years, to be honest), people still seem to doubt that sexual predators shouldn’t be given a platform on what is arguably the largest stage in the world.
Reason #1: It sets a precedent for future productions.
Even with outcry from assault survivors and / or theatre fans, Broadway productions have continued to cast predators to play prominent roles, even when there are plenty of other people who are available to play the part (and, frankly, are better as well as more deserving). While the production comes under fire by fans and the occasional reviewer, the production itself doesn’t seem to outwardly suffer any consequences for their actions. Audiences still pack the theaters, box office numbers stay consistent, and awards are still given out. Consequently, no one learns a lesson and the toxic cycle of giving abusers a platform continues.
Reason #2: They are an inherent danger to their fellow cast members and fans.
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since someone has committed an act of abuse or assault. They will always be the person who performed such an act and they will always be someone who is capable of doing that action again.
Just because Ramasar wasn’t formally charged with a crime, it doesn’t mean that stagedooring fans and fellow cast members won’t be in danger. I surely pray that no one else is ever harmed by him again, but the potential will always be there because he’s done it in the past and he may certainly act again in the future.
In this world, you get one chance to not be a sexual predator. Once you violate the world’s trust, I wholeheartedly believe that you shouldn’t still get the same opportunities as those who haven’t committed acts of assault. You had a chance and you blew it, end of story. Maybe you could work in regional theatre or start your own regional theatre company, but you shouldn’t be given a platform on a big stage like Broadway or the West End.
Reason #3: It reassures predators that they can get a great, highly coveted job even with a history of being a predator.
Please tell me what’s stopping a predator from assaulting someone and proceeding to get a job on Broadway. James Barbour was arrested and charged with the statutory rape of a minor. He then immediately got a job on Broadway in A Tale of Two Cities after serving a prison sentence for his crime, and then a few years later he was cast as the lead in The Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running Broadway show of all time. If a child rapist can get the lead in a musical as influential as Phantom, it illustrates that pretty much anyone can be cast on Broadway if your resume is impressive and you’re halfway competent.
Reason #4: Going along with the above reason, it gives survivors an excuse not to speak up; the person who traumatized them is thriving instead of paying for their actions.
That said, I completely disagree with the statement above; I believe that survivors should speak up whenever they feel comfortable. However, predators being cast in significant productions is a way of showing that there are no consequences for abusers. They can get temporarily fired or even serve a prison sentence for their predatory actions, but they can still easily get (or retain…) coveted jobs on Broadway or in the NYC Ballet. It’s just not right.
Reason #5: Survivors will constantly be faced with their abusers and be forced to deal with the consequences rather than the other way around.
Throughout all of this drama, I’ve been thinking about the women that Ramasar and others hurt with their actions. More specifically, Alexandra Waterbury, who is just one of the subjects of the explicit images he shared. She and other victims constantly have to deal with seeing him in press having to do with the West Side Story revival. Whether it’s negative or positive press (and in West Side Story’s case, it’s more the former), I don’t doubt that this is doing further psychological damage to survivors who deserve better.
Theatre is something I’m deeply passionate about and something I’ll love forever, but this is just one of the many issues that needs to be addressed in the community. What’s your opinion on the Ramasar case? Are there any other examples I’m missing? Let us know in the comments.
- The New Yorker: A Grim Take on “West Side Story”
- The Guardian: How a dancer involved in a #MeToo scandal staged a Broadway comeback
- New York Post: Show doesn’t go on for dancer accused of sharing explicit pics
- Backstage: Broadway Actor Arrested for Abuse
- The Guardian: ‘We can’t stand by this any more’: inside the West Side Story premiere protest
- Observer: Here’s Why People Are Protesting Broadway’s ‘West Side Story’ Casting
- Vulture: In the New West Side Story, When You’re Onstage You’re Onscreen All the Way
- The New York Times: Let ‘West Side Story’ and Its Stereotypes Die
- Playbill: Actors’ Equity Releases Statement Regarding West Side Story
- Playbill: Broadway’s New West Side Story Releases Statement Regarding Casting Controversy