Friday, February 28, 2014

Diversity in the Theatre: I won't stop speaking up.

Lately, I've been feeling like a broken record. I can count on two hands the number of times I've recently said "white people show" or "shows where the director feels the family unit MUST be white." I understand that by living in Central Pennsylvania, I've kind of limited my options, but I'm dealing with that personally after a swift kick in the pants by someone I respect. (Side note: I'm planning on moving!!!!! More on that in another post eventually!)  
If you know me, you know that the subject of race isn't something I talk about it. I grew up in a white family. I never really thought that I was "less than" or had to work extra hard because I was black.Of course some people think I should take my skin color and let it define me in all aspects of my life. But I'm not going to do that. I don't find my identity in my skin color, I find it in who I am in Christ. But that's also a different blog post for a different time. 

I was recently asked to audition for a role of a middle aged, southern, black man. I didn't want to do it. I felt guilted into auditioning, because, I guess, I was the only black actor around here that people could think of. Which would be cool if the show had been "Race" by David Mamet, and the role was Susan a 20something (maybe early 30s...) black lawyer. But it wasn't. And I didn't audition. I included this in my email to the director, and I meant every word of it two weeks ago, and I still mean them today:  

I think that finding a play with one African American character was very bold, and a very cool decision on your part. On the flip side, as an African American actress who is involved in a community theatre that only seems to pick shows where WHITE families are the main characters, unfortunately, I don't have a prayer of being cast. And then having the option to audition for a show just because I'm black, is cool, I guess, but "being black" isn't really my schtick. I'm a talented actress, and I can do so much more than just look a certain way. And my prayer for the future of theatre is that my son or daughter will not be called upon for a role just because of their skin color. Theatre is moving in such a good direction, when it comes to diverse casting, but I think we who are involved at the community level need to be more conscious of picking shows that can be filled with people of all races and backgrounds, not just a show with a "token black." The world itself is changing...I'm in a serious relationship with a white guy, I have some biracial friends, and some Indian friends and some Filipino friends. We are hard-pressed, especially in the State College community, to find someone who is 100% anything. Diverse backgrounds are becoming the norm in the world, and I believe that theatre should be a direct reflection of life and the world around us. Otherwise, unless we're doing a historic Wilson, or GB Shaw, or Isben, it becomes inauthentic, and more difficult to relate to. Thankfully, a lot of contemporary playwrights are moving in that direction. And they're doing that by writing plays that don't have specific character breakdowns. Which is awesome, because it gives actors of color more of a chance of being involved! 

I'd like to point out that I'm not the only one thinking, talking, and writing about diversity in the theatre. I recently read a great article about the role of theatre critics where diversity is concerned. The Article Overview reads:
Some critics don’t concern themselves with diversity or context, sticking to the subject before them. This is its own form of injustice as well as an abandonment of the critic’s role; to see exclusionary practices and not comment on them is to perpetuate them, but also, to pretend a show exists in a cultural vacuum does a disservice to the role of art. 
I love this. The article goes on to say that the lack of diversity isn't just cultural/background. The theatre is also severely lacking women playwrights, producers, directors, etc...:
Just 17 percent of plays produced in this country are written by women. Since 2000, the annual list of the top 10 most-produced plays averages three female playwrights. (An interesting side note: there’s far more ethnic diversity among these women than there is among their male counterparts, which is great, but leads me to wonder whether this is because such playwrights enable artistic directors to check off more than one “diversity” box.)  
I literally couldn't have written a better side note if I tried. Do we as theatre practitioners purposely stack our decks so we can appear diverse? This honestly hasn't been my experience, but I pray to God it never happens.

There are a few sides to the diversity situation: people who think producers should strive to include all types of people in every show of the season; people who think that the only type of "diversity" we should have is a
"Random Black Girl" in the ensemble of every musical (these people are usually the more old fashioned types of directors); and then there are people who don't think about this at all, which isn't necessarily a problem, but it's not a solution either. 

I'm no expert, but I think the biggest thing we at the local level are missing is a simple dialogue on this issue. I can sit here all day and link you to bigger theatre communities who have devoted entire studies to managing and valuing diversity... but I think I'd prefer to ask the questions myself: 

  1. Why couldn't we produce "Race" by David Mamet for a season? Or any other shows like that? (Memphis!! Sister Act!! The Color Purple!!)
  2. Why aren't we able to draw a larger diverse crowd to our shows?
  3. What if we took the notion of "black people wouldn't have been anything other than maids in the 1930s" and threw it out, and cast a black woman as Reno Sweeney, or any type of lead? 
  4. Who says every family unit all has to look the same? I mean, have you seen my parents and siblings??
  5. What if we just sat down, and talked it all out? 
I feel like I took the long way to a simple point, but I think the only way to get there is to talk about the hard, and potentially uncomfortable things. Sure, I may talk about it a lot, but that's because it's important to me. As a woman, as an actress of color, and as a human being. 

I truly believe that art is a direct reflection of life, and I think most of my theatre and artist friends would agree. And if we're being truthful, life isn't seeing all white-bread families everywhere anymore. (Biracial, adoptive, and blended families, for example.) So why should our theatres show that? It's a direct misrepresentation of the world around us, and it's not 100% relatable to today's audiences. So even though I'm one person, I believe that I have the power to at least ignite the conversation. Join me, and together, we could change the world. 
More Links: 

Diversity in American Theater: The Mythology of Color Blind/Conscience Casting
On Valuing Diversity, Managing Diversity, and the Difference
"Random Black Girl" Composers: Kooman and Dimond

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"After All This Time?"

Some of you know this, and others of you might drop dead, but I have never read the Harry Potter series. Gasp. Breathe in...breathe out....
I was an extremely gullible child. You know all those Christian Parents who wouldn't let their kids read HP because of the magic? Well, I think my parents didn't let me read them because they assumed I'd probably try to make things levitate, etc..., and get angry when it didn't happen and try to burn down the house. To give a point of reference, I was in 6th grade when the first book came out. So, yeah, I was a little young.

By the time I realized I would survive if I had read them, I decided not too. I don't know why, but I just didn't. I went to college and I was basically the only one in all my friend groups who hadn't read them. But throughout the years, I have seen 4.5 of the movies, so I think that counts for something. I know it's not the same, but at least I'm not completely clueless.
After the last movie was released my News Feed, Pinterest and Twitter timeline were BLOWN UP with all these feelings. I loved how passionate my friends were, but to be honest, it didn't motivate me to read the books.
This past fall, I met a beautiful young woman named Veronica who is a baker, and basically just a really awesome human being. Recently she started to re-read the Harry Potter books and blogging about them in segments.  So, naturally, I thought, Veronica is really nice, and really cool, so I'm going to start reading the books and read her blogs alongside them!

I clearly have not started that. 

And now that JK Rowling has come out and said that she thinks Hermione should have not ended up with Ron, and should have married Harry , I'm over the whole entire thing.

Why in the world would I want to read books with a story line that THE AUTHOR has now regretted? Why would I spend literally over hundreds of hours investing my emotions into to characters, when I know that the author would have written this book a different way? Why couldn't she have just sat on her pile of billions, and silently regretted this? Why?? Millions of HP fans have been devastated, and me?? I'm not even a "fan" per se, and I'm upset enough to write a blog about this!!!

To me, it kills any hope I had of picturing all the cool things that exist in the wonderful wizard-y world. And to be honest, I had no idea that Ron and Hermione ended up together. I knew Harry got with Luna Lovegood (right? Is that right? Hold on...Googling.....) Just kidding, he marries Ginny. I TOTALLY knew that. But I seriously didn't know the Ron-Hermione match. So now I'm just sad, because, what if I wanted them to end up together?? What if I wished Hermione would have stayed single?? My hopes would have been ruined either way.

I'm sure I'll be able to get over this eventually, and I'll read the books, but for now, you'll have to excuse me while I mourn the loss of something I never had in the first place.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Guest Post: Elizabeth's Top 10 Things to Do on A Snow Day (That Don't Include Technology)

IT'S SNOWING! Surprise of all surprises, right? It's the millionth snowy day of 2014 here in Central Pennsylvania, and I asked my best friend Elizabeth to share with us a list of 10 things to do on a snow day! She's very much not dependent on technology like I am, so here is her list of things to do that don't involve sitting in front of a screen! Enjoy!

1. Spend some time with God: Read your Bible, pray, just sit and spend some time thanking Him for the blessings He has given you. I promise you won't regret it.

2. Read a book: Any book. Do it. It can be a kid's book for all I care. Just do it.

3. Be creative: You know that painting/scrapbook/knitting/woodwork etc. project that you have been wanting to do/finish but have been putting off because you don't have time? Well guess what, you have time now! Get to work!

4. Write. It can be a journal, a book, or a letter to someone! I mean, come on, everyone loves to get mail!

5. Bake or cook: We ALL have a recipe board on Pinterest of deliciousness that we want to try. Even if you aren't a good cook/baker, this is the perfect time to practice!

6. Clean: I know, I know. This sounds boring and not fun at all, but seriously. You have all day, why not get some of your weekly cleaning done! Even if it's just light cleaning, you have the time. Or if you want to be really ambitious and deep clean something, go for it!

7. Play in the snow: Build a snowman, have a snowball fight, make snow angels, or just take a snowy walk! Embrace your inner child!

8. Play an instrument/sing: Practice makes perfect! So go ahead and play away! I personally don't do this as often as I would like to, but when I do get the chance, it's so relaxing and calming.

9. Work out: Yea, this isn't one I do very often. You'll feel better after you do it though! (Or so I've been told...)

10. Play a game: Board game...card game....just have fun!

11. Snow day photo shoot: Seriously, grab your camera and document your snow day! Make some memories!