Increasing Diversity in the Theater

Have you heard about Theresa Rebeck’s talk about gender parity in theater? She gave it in March of 2010, but it’s making the rounds on Facebook now.

Take a look if you haven’t already:

Diversity Is Not Just about (White) Women

I am getting sick and tired of hearing white women complain about lack of gender parity in the theater, when they clearly have no idea about the lack of racial parity. We complain that we don’t get enough productions. How can we complain when we get more productions than playwrights of color?

True parity in theater is parity in all ways: gender, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and all the other ways you can think of.

My Bona Fides

I’m white. And a woman. I grew up in a white part of Seattle. For most of my life, I had no idea that I was white.

Now, I’m married to an African-American. It will be 10 years in March. I have had many experiences, when visiting his family, of being the only white person in a gathering of African Americans.

I learned that I am white. I learned that there is a white culture. And that there are white plays, and white theater.

Disclaimer: I’m talking about the United States

In other countries, your mileage may vary.  🙂

Diversity Is Not That Hard to Achieve

Have blind submissions

To start with, theaters and conferences should have blind submissions. Everybody’s got unconscious biases, so why not reduce the effect they have on what theaters produce? Make sure nobody (unconsciously) thinks a play isn’t worthy of a production, because the playwright’s name clearly identifies them as female, or of a particular ethnic origin, for example.

Use cultural ambassadors

If you are white, and don’t have significant experience in nonwhite communities, find white people who do. Ask them about their experiences and how they relate to theater. Listen to them. They will help you understand the unconscious ways you are not seeing the true possibilities of diversity.

Don’t expect everyone to like white plays

Know that people of color are not going to come in droves to see white plays. I hear artistic directors complain about that. Then they do, say, a black play, and see African-Americans come. Even in droves. And they don’t make the connection!

Theater is universal. But particular plays speak to particular people.

Produce plays that multiracial audiences will love

Get audiences into your theater, and let them have a wonderful theatrical experience around people who are different from them.

Be creative in casting

Does a white person really need to play that part? Cast someone who is not white.

Does a skinny person really need to play that part? Cast someone who’s heavy.

Does an able-bodied person really need to play that part? Cast someone who uses a wheelchair.

Always, always, expand your beliefs about who can play the parts are casting.

Produce plays with genuine, full, well-rounded characters

Make sure that all of the characters in the plays you produce are real people. Not just the white men. Have you ever heard of the Bechdel Test?

The criteria for the test at the top of the page (they’re sort of buried in the text). Use this test; it  will help you make sure that your diverse characters are still real characters.

Know your audience

If your theater is a white theater, own it. Then do what you can to increase diversity.

How Else Can We Achieve Diversity in the Theater?

I know you all will have more ideas.

You will also probably tell me that diversity is that hard to achieve.

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1 Response to Increasing Diversity in the Theater

  1. Betsy Muller says:

    I appreciate your perspective and really enjoyed reading it. You brought to light that the human experience has the right to be represented from all walks of life. I feel our time here is too precious to miss out on the opportunity to submerge myself in another culture, and theatre and film have the capacity to provide such a strong platform for this. I wish all the best for you, your endevours, and your family.

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