Gentle readers, I’d like to tell you a story. I work managing a theatre company that primarily produces works of what might be called “multicultural theatre.” What that means is that we basically do plays about people of color and that makes us somehow a special class of theatre, though mainstream theatres aren’t called “white theatres” for staging seasons that are either entirely white, or all-but. I’d be angrier about this, but it does mean that there are specific grants for which we can apply, and non-profits need grants to run. You take the good with the bad, I guess.
The company I work for is currently deciding whether or not to put on a play at another venue, which seems innocuous enough; theatre companies use one another’s spaces all the time. However, this potential working relationship began when the director of that venue — let’s call him Keith — approached me and my boss by saying, “I hate to say this, but there’s no other way to put it: my venue is having real difficulty getting people of color to attend our shows. We’d like your help.” The venue in question is close to my hometown, in an area where about half of one percent of all residents are Black, and the total percentage of people of color doesn’t break four percent. Their season consists of shows like Assassins, Annie, The Wizard of Oz, & Legally Blonde: The Musical. All of which (shut up!) are shows I would gleefully fill a seat for. Especially Assassins. I love that show. But that’s a pretty white season.
I just didn’t understand how someone could be confused that in an area with virtually no Black people and very few Latinos, they had difficulty attracting persons of color to their performances. Let’s be charitable and assume that Keith was asking us how his theatre might engage with audiences of color, and I think that the easiest answer is: put on shows that they care about. I mean, for Christ’s sake, if the least white show in your season is Fiddler on the Roof, what do you expect? Continue reading