A casting director at a theatre company in Oregon claims that the Edward Albee Estate — the entity that grants rights to the late playwright's works — revoked the rights to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when he refused to replace a Black lead with a white actor.
Casting director Michael Streeter took to Facebook to criticise the estate's insistence that he could not cast a Black actor in the role of Nick in the famous 1962 play. He wrote: "I am furious and dumbfounded. The Edward Albee Estate needs to join the 21st Century. I cast a black actor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The Albee Estate called and said I need to fire the black actor and replace him with a white one. I refused, of course. They have withdrawn the rights."
In a statement from the Edward F. Albee Foundation's press rep, Sam Rudy, initially sent to Streeter and obtained by Jezebel, the estate defended its decision, saying that the character Nick's whiteness is actually crucial to the play: "Regarding the matter of your request to cast an actor who is African-American as Nick in VIRGINIA WOOLF?, it is important to note that Mr. Albee wrote Nick as a Caucasian character, whose blonde hair and blue eyes are remarked on frequently in the play, even alluding to Nick's likeness as that of an Aryan of Nazi racial ideology."
The foundation also claims that Albee, who died at 88 in September 2016, would not have wanted a Black actor to play Nick: "Mr. Albee himself said on numerous occasions when approached with requests for non-traditional casting in productions of VIRGINIA WOOLF? that a mixed-race marriage between a Caucasian and an African-American would not have gone unacknowledged in conversations in that time and place and under the circumstances in which the play is expressly set by textual references in the 1960s."
The memo also alleges that Streeter is the one in the wrong, as he was supposed to first obtain the rights to the play and submit the cast for approval by the estate. "The decision to 'fire' him was yours and yours alone by virtue of your own misstep," it reads.
Entertainment journalist Mark Harris drew attention to the controversy when he screenshotted Streeter's Facebook post. He fired off a series of tweets criticising the estate. "I don't know if this reflects Albee's wish. If it does, that wish should not have survived him," he wrote. He argued that the only thing the estate is protecting is Albee's "personal (& outmoded) distaste for colourblind casting, retrofitted into an insistence that Woolf is by definition about white ppl." He continued, "So I don't find the 'authorial intent' argument persuasive in this case. Also, casting lives in a tricky place btw authorship & production."
Rebecca Bromels, a Professor of Arts Administration at the University of Cincinnati who has directed a number of plays, replied to Harris, saying she has experienced the same situation in the past when adapting works by Albee. "This is a longstanding decision by Albee and the estate. We had to submit actor headshots before being granted rights," she said.
Refinery29 has reached out to Streeter and the Albee Estate for comment. We will update this story should either party provide a statement.