Local Actor Calling for Greater Minority Outreach from Des Moines Community Playhouse

DES MOINES, Iowa - A local actor has resigned from his role in the upcoming production, "West Side Story," because he claims there was not enough outreach to the local Latino community to appropriately cast the roles.

"So this is the cast photo of our production of Rent that we did four years ago - and it was one of the best experiences I've ever had as an actor," Zander Morales said, showing Channel 13 his cast photo from the Des Moines Community Playhouse's production of "Rent" four years ago. "And as you can see, there's a lot of awesome diversity in this cast. A lot of really talented actors and they did a lot of awesome work with them. And if you look at last summer, Rock of Ages, you can see where there's just a huge difference there."

Morales is a proud Puerto Rican actor, but he says he can't be a part of the Playhouse's upcoming production of "West Side Story," set to debut in October, because the cast is "white-washed."

"When we cast the show, there was only two people in the show that identified as Latino - myself and one other actor," he said. "That meant that the majority of the Puerto Rican roles were white-washed."

Morales says a show about Puerto Rican immigrants in New York shouldn't be made up of a mostly-white cast. He voiced his concerns to the Playhouse, but he says they didn't reach out enough to the Des Moines Latino community.

"There are so many Latino groups in the Des Moines area alone, that were never reached out to that didn't even know that this kind of production was happening," he said. "We have 37,000 of us in the Metro, and they're saying they couldn't find 10 that could sing and dance. I mean, that's crazy."

It's not the first time Des Moines theater has been accused of white-washing casts; a recent editorial in the Des Moines Register called on the local theater community to add diversity on-stage.

"It's happening in theater all over the country - in Chicago, in Los Angelos, Minneapolis - this isn't new, it's been happening for a long time and we want it to stop," Morales said.

Morales hopes walking away from the show will get people talking. An anonymous supporter even donated him a sign criticizing the show, referring to it as "White Side Story."

"It's constantly happening, and it's going to continue happening until we say it needs to stop," he said.

Channel 13 reached out to the Des Moines Community Playhouse for comment. Executive Director, John Viars, provided this statement:

"All volunteers who come to audition for a show at the Des Moines Community Playhouse are welcome, and we do not ask - or keep a record of - their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, age, or disability status.

"The Playhouse is deeply committed to, and supportive of, diversity in local theatre. We work to include all members of the community, to the extent possible, in stage productions and to serve all members of the community in our educational programs.

"The Playhouse has a strong and well-documented history of reaching out to diverse groups for inclusion in its programming. Our goal is to provide a rewarding experience for all volunteers and participants, from performers and students, to their families and our audience members."