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June 27, 2010


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Art Hennessey

Not the first time Lois Lane has taken on the race issue. ;)


I'm glad that change went through okay.

I'm incensed, though, at the revisal work that DC Comic rejected, that actually sounded exciting -- kicking the story back to 1939; bringing in the classic DC villains, *and* changing the Max Mencken character into the more logical Lex. They actually had comics author/playwright Aguirre-Sacasa working with Strouse to do it right.

However, DC Comics, in its ongoing wrongfooted attitude to media adaptations, laid down this fiat:
"When DC Comics became aware of the Dallas Theater Center production of It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman!, we advised the producers that the show must remain faithful to the original 1966 production. The Dallas Theater Center, a not-for-profit organization, understands that this production is limited to a one-time run in Dallas. DC Comics wishes the Dallas Theater Center a successful summer season."


It is to weep, ain't it?


... and if Dallas gets tired of workshopping it (and if DC can remove the stick up its ass in time) this revisal would be a nice fit for Denver Center's New Play Summit, through a side presentation just like THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN a couple of years ago. I'd rather see the new version through the workshop hell system than have it buried forever under DC red tape.

Anne Moore

I'm glad to have some of those questions about the details of the revisal put to rest. They did move the time frame back to 1939 in the end, which worked really well. Superman is a much more appealing hero against the background of the Depression than he is in the 1960s, for sure. It's interesting and a little sad to think of how much cooler the show might have been without all that intervention by DC.

Do you theater-savvy folks know if there have been any race-blind casting decisions like this one in traveling productions? That seems like it would have even more interesting implications...

And thanks for the link, Art!


Did they add the other villains, or did they stay with Mencken/Dr. Sedgwick? Are the Chinese acrobats still in? No Sapphic Scarlet Widow? *sob*

Anne Moore

The Sapphic Scarlet Widow stands, but they sidestepped the stupid DC ruling by just making Max Mencken into Lex Luthor and giving him another name. No on the Chinese Acrobats, yes on Blackbird, who "wants shiny things for her nest" and a Joker knock-off called Jack-in-the-Box. Sydney Sharp (Jenny London, who was AMAZING), the gossip columnist, is the other big potential villain.

It was kind of uncanny, honestly--almost all familiar characters, but with different names. Jimmy Olson is "Torchy," Lana Lang is "Emily." Weird.


Alrighty, then. As long as DC doesn't pull that soul-shredding micromanagement that made SMALLVILLE an airless wonder, I'm good to go.

Here's hoping some VP has blackmailed enough lateral positions on the org chart to give this musical further life....

Ian Thal

"DC Comics [...] advised the producers that the show must remain faithful to the original 1966 production."

Copyright holders of dramatic works always have that right-- it's the same right that the Beckett estate invokes regarding productions of Beckett's plays-- even when produced at not-for-profit theatres.

Of course, the other matter is that DC is also owns trademarks around Superman and related characters so even the C-list supporting cast members can't be used in an outside production without a contract.


This all seems well and good, but I do take issue with "race-blind casting." Makes it sound so accidental as opposed to a directorial approach, and there may be many reasons for the casting here, but this case seems anything but "blind". In fact, it seems to be a very clear-sighted choice.

I'm not sure if "non-traditional casting" is a better term either, but if we want to see more of it on our stages, we need better words to discuss it with our audience. And "blind" is such a loaded term already.

"race-specific casting"... "race-responsive casting"... okay, I got nothing great either, but still, for this casting to become a grounded tool of our community, and we sure want it to be, I think it needs a better vocabulary/hook.


RLewis - I think there are two different things that are often conflated into one, which leads to the confusion. What Anne seems to be describing is actually "color-blind" casting: they cast the strongest actress for the role, regardless of color. It doesn't sound like they changed the character or made mention of the fact that Lois Lane was black. She's simply Lois Lane.

Mostly, what we get is "race-specific casting," usually called "non-traditional casting," since it largely only happens in classic plays. That's casting the part with a person of color to make some larger point about the world of the play or society or whatnot.

There are a lot of terms, but not a lot of clarity about what people are trying to do.


99, "...they cast the strongest actress for the role, regardless of color." - do you really thinks that's true? I kinda doubt it. I'll bet the director knew s/he was casting a woman of color, and did so purposefully.

She's still simply Lois Lane, and it says nothing about the play, but how it is perceived does make a difference among those in the audience. Bretchian maybe, but still, if not this actress, it would have been another actress of color. This doesn't seem like circumstances of talent; it seems like a Directorial Choice... and I approve of this message.


I'll admit to a touch of Pollyanna-ism there, but I also don't think the director was trying to make a statement about race or say something more about the character. Does that make sense? Kevin isn't ignorant of the choice he's making, I didn't mean to imply that, but it's not making a change in the narrative or meaning of the play, just in the response. Very Brechtian...but not quite what I think of "race-specific."


Did you think the Dallas team, including Mr. Strouse, made these changes with DC not knowing about them? In a regional theatre that announces its subscription season in advance?

When Aguirre-Sacasa was doing research on new characters, ya think he didn't contact DC Comics directly, for research materials?

I'm not claiming the right for revisal writers to work in defiance of copyright protection -- I'm saying it's flatfooted and arrogant for DC Comics to reject those changes so late in a process it obviously had to be aware of.

If the Dallas Observer could document the revisal process since April 2009, you think DC could set up a Google Alert, or something? The lack of communication boggles the mind, especially in an era where the Internet could provide them blow-by-blow monitoring of any staging done in this country. Say what you will of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, they watch their IP like hawks, and are unafraid to intervene early in a production process to state what they like and what they don't.

Ian Thal


I'm not defending DC Comics, I'm just explaining how their IP rights work.

In this case, rather than invoke a cease-and-desist order, they gave the equivalent of "sure, make those changes, and feel free to perform them in your theatre, just don't try taking it on the road."

It may seem arrogant to you, but considering how companies like DC and Marvel generally treat their IP, it's actually rather liberal. Honestly, I'm surprised that they didn't intervene at an earlier stage in the creative process.

Ian Thal

Actually, maybe Art can chime in as he played multiple roles in Superheroine Monologues.

Art, do you know if John Kuntz and Rick Park experienced any interference from DC or Marvel over IP?


I understand how IP works -- I just had the same question you just posed, above: Why did DC wait so long to constrain the production's changes, when they could have participated in the process and prevented misleading information about those changes from being publicized?

Workshops are supposed to let all the ideas grow, then prune them back, as needed. It just seemed to me that instead of letting one Dallas Observer fanboy speculate about what Aguirre-Sacasa would be able to change, that he would be told "wait and see" until opening night? More than anything it just seems sloppy and uncoordinated.

(and I know that this discussion has null-all to do with race-blind casting... except that all those textual changes probably gave the director enough room to have a Negro Lois Lane, while DC was distracted by Lex and the Sapphic Scarlet Widow. The old Hays Office "say Goddamn so you can get away with Damn" ploy...

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