Controversy arises over school play casting in Ithaca

Controversy arises over school play in Ithaca

It started with a letter to the editor in the Tompkins Weekly that gave voice to concerns over casting in a high school play.

The author, student Annabella VanCort, was concerned about the apparent decision to cast a white female student as Esmeralda in the production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The letter went viral and debate ensued because Esmeralda is traditionally cast by a woman of color.

"We had no idea that it would become a national conversation with Fox News and The New York Times," Annabella VanCort said.

VanCort, a senior at Ithaca High School, never auditioned for the play, but was concerned enough to draw attention to the casting decision.

Social media comments and national attention to that decision led school leaders to cancel the play.

"This has been a really scary experience. I'm not someone who is usually worried about safety," said Eliza VanCort, mother of Annabella.

It has become a national controversy over race that is leaving some in the community struggling to pick sides.

"It's complicated. It's always complicated. I don't know that there was necessarily any malicious intent," said Ithaca neighbor Dan Paolangeli.

"It's a hard pill to swallow, because I feel like that show was the thing that could bring our community together," Eliza says of the potential of having a female of color in the lead role.

"If there is a potential for change, the moment is now," she added.

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