Nonprofit Theater Round Up: Winter 2016

I have recently seen three more nonprofit shows since my last post, and once again, not a single person of color graced the stage. In light of last night Oscars and the never-ending debate of race in the entertainment industry, it’s important to keep talking about diversity. Two of the shows I saw, the hilarious Noises Off and the fantastic She Loves Me felt so perfectly cast until you realize that there aren’t any non-white actors featured. (The third show, Our Mother’s Brief Affair is a family drama that deals with a specific historical period, so God forbid you cast anyone but white people). It’s a fine line between casting the best people for the job and ensuring that a production is diverse. I certainly don’t want subpar actors getting roles just to fill a quota, nor would that fix anything. In fact, it would make things worse. It is important to keep diversity in mind though. When you have heads of studios and production companies who are all white, coupled with white writers, directors, and casting directors, what do you think is going to happen? I’m not suggesting that any of these people are racist or insensitive. I just think it’s harder to make people see the need for diversity when they don’t realize the world they are portraying on stage and screen doesn’t look the way many other people’s worlds look.

Imagine being a child and not seeing anyone that looks like you on screen. With the insane number of television shows that exist, it’s hard to believe that all people are not represented. As a small child, it affects you. You start to feel like you don’t matter, that your stories aren’t important, that you aren’t worthy of representation. And then you grow up and realize that change isn’t going to happen overnight. The red carpet was full of white interviewers asking white actors how they felt about the lack of diversity. Here’s a novel idea. Ask a person of color! Have a person of color do the interviewing. Or better yet, have a nonwhite producer that can delve into the issue more, instead of merely scratching the surface to placate the internet.

This year on Broadway is one of the most diverse seasons to date. And it’s truly extraordinary that shows like Hamilton exist, where white roles are portrayed but actors of color. And it’s great that the gone-too-soon-but-not-forgotten show, Allegiance, showed the theater world that Asian-Americans exist, and Asians can appear on stage without living in the East, waiting for Western forces to come to their shores during times of war. And then there are shows like The Color Purple, Eclipsed, and On Your Feet! that continue to represent all the colors of the rainbow. Even plays, where traditionally white roles like those in The Gin Game and Hughie are going to black actors. It’s time for the nonprofit theaters to get in on that action! Sure, Hollywood isn’t any better, but if Broadway is this giant community that is progressive and full of activists, then why is it so hard for a nonprofit theater to cast people of color? To quote Hamilton, “this is not a moment, it’s a movement.” People of color aren’t going anywhere, so you minds well cast us in your shows. Who knows? Maybe we’ll revolutionize the whole scene…


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