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Cal Poly Theatre production canceled amid concerns of appropriate casting representation

The Cal Poly Theatre and Dance Department canceled its Fall play amid concerns about lack of representation in the cast.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s fall production of ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ has been canceled amid concerns about adequate character and cultural representation among the cast.

‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ was originally written as a children’s book by Salmon Rushdie, an Indian-born, British-American novelist.

It focuses on a son’s journey through fantastical experiences in make-believe lands to restore his father’s voice that has been lost.

Josh Machamer is the current administrator-in-charge of Cal Poly’s Theatre and Dance Department.

He wasn’t part of the initial decision to produce the play. But he said he thinks it was chosen in part because there was an emphasis among the department to shine a light on underrepresented communities.

“At the heart of it, is a story of Haroun and Rashid that is intrinsically tied to a culture that is not representative of, say, ‘white America,’” Machamer said.

He said after finishing casting for the play, it became clear that the student cast wouldn’t be able to accurately represent the culture of the story. Emails came in from concerned students and the department pulled the plug.

“In the end, the department wasn’t successful in, what I think [was], trying to bring those necessary representative voices to the aspect of telling the story,” Machamer said.

Machamer said a number of students have expressed feeling like the cancellation was the right decision. He said others are disappointed, saying this story could have reached a new audience and canceling it sets a precedent for limiting productions.

Machamer said he disagrees.

“If we’re doing a play that is culturally specific, then we have an obligation to be able to represent that,” Machamer said. “Those days of being able to ‘white-wash’ something or fall back on the [idea of ‘educational theatre’] — I don’t know if we’re doing right in terms of educating if that’s the message we’re sending.”

Machamer said the department is replacing the play with a student-created production. He said it gives more freedom to the students, focuses on collective storytelling and centers around the voices in the room.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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