An all BIPOC cast from film and theatre take to Zoom to bring this classic play to modern life in a safe and socially-distanced medium.
I first wanted to give the modern treatment to “My Fair Lady,” but the music aside, Pygmalion is the better script. It also exists in the public domain, which makes it perfect for a pandemic, stay-at-home performance. I don’t need anyone’s permission to mount a production of it, however untraditional.
Pulling Pygmalion into modern times presents some unique challenges. I absolutely wanted a diverse cast, but the script deals with sexism, classism, elitism and the “modern” thinking of the Edwardian period which is about 100 years less modern than I wanted to set my production. To avoid saying anything about colonialism, white supremacy or racism that I wasn’t trying to say, I decided to mount the play with a 100% BIPOC cast. This isn’t color-blind casting on my part, and I don’t think it’s tokenism either. It’s recognizing how race can intersect with the other dynamics of this play in terms of power and authority and trying to keep the conversation on gender and class as much as possible by taking the race with a history of power and authority over other races out of the equation altogether. Whether or not that approach was successful, interesting or appropriate, I borrow a line from Alfred Doolittle, “I puts it to you, and I leaves it to you.”
I decided not to care about a few things that I would normally care about in a fully-mounted theatrical producation. I don’t care if actors who play characters which are related to each other look like they could be related to each other. I decided not to care much about consistency of dialect–a risky deprioritization of a major element of the script. I subjugated every consideration to my first and foremost priority–I wanted to mount a modern take of Pygmalion with a BIPOC cast over Zoom with as little intrusion on the busy and stressful lives of the cast members as possible given their unpaid participation. My second goal was to learn more about and do a better job of editing than I ever had before.
I hope you’ll enjoy this production as a well-thought, well-executed, modern reading of an interesting and clever script. And if your primary engagement with this story has been “My Fair Lady,” then I am delighted to introduce you to the characters anew, and hope you enjoy the ending (of which there has been much modern debate,) as George Bernard Shaw intended it, and not as Lerner and Lowe re-imagined it.