January 18, 2011

diversity in theatre - what you can do right now

I was originally going to comment in response to 99's post at Parabasis ("What We Need"), but I saw that I had a lot more to say.

To be very honest, I'm tired of having this fucking conversation. I've been saying the same damn thing for months! I'm tired of saying the same shit all the time! I don't make these points for my health. I'm telling you what I see so you can fucking change it because I don't necessarily have the clout or the resources to do that myself. So let me spell it out for everyone so we're all on the same page. You ready? Here we go . . .
The solution to the overwhelming Whiteness and maleness of NYC theatre is to get space and money and audiences to writers, directors and producers who are not White men.
That's it. Yes, it's that simple. There is no lack of desire or talent, only a lack of vision and resolve. We think and act too much in "Yeah, but . . . " instead of "Yes! And . . . "

We go . . .

  • "Yeah, I hear they wrote something great, but I never worked with them before."
  • "Yeah, I think this needs to happen, but I don't know if there's anything I can do."
  • "Yeah, I want to help, but it's so hard."

Yet we never go . . .

  • "Yes, this is exactly the kind of stuff we need to do more of, and I'm going to tell people that."
  • "Yes, my project could use someone like you, and I'm going to find a way to get you involved."
  • "Yes, I know someone who wants to put on something just like that, and I'm going to put you in touch with them."
We want the problem to get fixed, but we don't want to change the way we do things. We want the problem to get fixed, but we want to rely on the same methods and paradigms that exclude, exploit, and underserve us. So is it any wonder that we spin our wheels every few months (especially around this time of year), pat ourselves on the back for being appropriately liberal because we feel so bad about what's happening (and we raise awareness - never forget that!), while never challenging ourselves to do better or holding ourselves accountable for our (lack of?) efforts.

So here are some things you (yes, you, the reader) can do right now, right this second, to make things better. These are just things I was thinking about off the top of my head. They're just my opinions. Take what you can use. Leave the rest.

1. Stop pretending to be so goddamn helpless.

If you're reading this blog right now, you have a voice. That means you have power. Use it. I'm not saying to write a Pulitzer-winning article or make a submission to the New York Times. It can be simple and brief. Especially if you're not buying a ticket (or rather, not paying for a ticket). Show that you think it's important enough to talk about.

2. Show up and take it one step further.

Not hanging a sign outside the theatre saying "No Negroes Allowed" or making audience members use separate water fountains is not the same as reaching out to and developing new Black playwrights. You have to do more than not be in the way. You have to invite us to the party and tell everyone about the party. Blackboard Play Reading Series is very good about this. When they put on a reading of your stuff, it's not just your people who's going to know about it. It's going to be their people too.

3. Act like an advocate, not a networker.

If you meet someone, and they say, "I'm a playwright," the very first thing you should say is, "Tell me about your most recent piece." The next thing out of your mouth should be, "Would you give me your contact information?"

After that, come up with 3 people who'd be interested in this person's work. Just 3 people. You can include yourself, so that narrows it down to two. Your next job is to get the playwright you met in dialogue with these people. I don't mean forwarding their e-mail and saying, "Y'all talk. Bye now."

No, no, no, no, no. Bad! No biscuit! You say something more like, "I met Blah, this playwright who's working on Somesuchorother. This sounds like it'll be a great fit for Whateverthefuckyouaredoing. I thought you two should talk about possibly working together, as well as finding a home for Somesuchorother."

4. Come up with your own ideas to add to this list and tell people about them. 

Like right here, right now.


  1. Wow, number three is also amazing advice for playwrights/directors/producers and theater people in general. I've always felt a little slimy "networking" and this is why... nobody wants a networker; nobody wants somebody who's looking for something, we all want somebody who can GET us something. This is the attitude to have! Fantastic, fantastic advice. Thanks.