A Divided Country Still


This post originally appeared on the Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox at http://www.theatrebayarea.org/chatterbox.

As we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and remember the great strides that were made, despite tremendous resistance, in the 1960’s by King and many other brave men and women, it’s important to also note that, by and large, the theatre community continues to be a divided country. Our genre, at least in the United States, and at least in the more mainstream theatre, continues to function within all of the particular mores of the European model upon which it was founded, continues to produce works either out of or inspired in form and function by the European canon, and continues to therefore attract primarily people of European descent.

Our halls are populated mostly by white people, on staffs and boards, in our seats and, to a lesser degree, on our stages. While we have seen, recently, the meteoric rise of a few amazing playwrights, directors and actors of color, we continue to function in an ecosystem where something like two or three LORT-level companies are or ever have been run by someone who isn’t white. Ethnically-specific theatres, in the sort of post-racial apathy in which we find ourselves following the hyper-awareness of previous decades, struggle to either draw the people about whom they produce work, or to make that work interesting and engaging to the people outside of that culture who might more likely come.

As we celebrate the great strides of fifty years ago, we do so in a nation that has systematically continued to disadvantage the poor, who unfortunately continue to be disproportionately the non-white—arts education in those communities has all but disappeared, access to theatre as a form going by the wayside in the shuffle. At the same time, a strong impulse in the regional theatre community to ensure something close to financial stability by catering to subscribers, who look generally alike (you know what I mean) and enjoy a very particular set of things—and impulse which has in turn influenced those at many smaller organizations yearning to grow—means diversity has a hard time finding a place in our community.

And yet. The march continues. Populations of African Americans, Latinas/os and Asian Americans are all on the rise, as increasingly is a population of people made up of two or more lineages, all co-mingling and searching for representations of who they are and what they want to be.

Brad Erickson, the executive director here at Theatre Bay Area, previously served as the executive director of a non-profit devoted to promoting and enhancing minority-owned businesses. He is fond of saying that “getting diversity is work.” And he is right.

Will we answer the call? And how?

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