why black theatre?
people always ask me, "why black theatre?" here's why: theatre is the thing -the gift, the art- i have to offer this world. it’s the one way i know how to provoke change.
there are a whole bunch of major divides in this world, but the one i learned first was the one constructed by race. & it was more fucked up than i could understand. & because i lived in a smaller world, where mostly everyone around looked like me, there really wasn’t anyone who could help me understand.
so i started reading: baldwin & hughes & maya angelou & alice walker (& later, audre lorde & richard wright & others.) and i found new music: a combination of nina simone & black sheep & arrested development… and then later all of the jazz & funk & hip-hop i could get into my ears. through these art forms, i learned a new part of our american history. i learned to understand both the differences in life experiences and the sameness of the personal needs & desires for both black & white people. & then, in my adult years: i found plays. so many plays, that spoke this history & experience to me in a way with which i could really connect. & i found mentors (in marvin sims, who encouraged me to keep working in this field, and in jim hatch, who taught me that there have to be white allies who know how to use their privilege for progress…and in many others.)
i’m still learning, with every page, with every play, with every production: i’m still learning. but so are my audiences. this is my theatrical mantra: “diverse representations of life onstage, bound by a common human story to which all audience members can relate, when paired with manifold casts and artistic teams, lead to diverse audiences and the opportunity to evoke greater understanding of and empathy for disparate cultures -through the shared arts experience.”
it’s a long mantra, but it’s the truth. if i do my part to put black stories on stage, the more empathy our entire world will have for those lives. & the more (white) people that sit together in theatres & realize that black & brown people have lives that matter just as much as their own, we’ll see some progress.
as long as black and brown men and woman are still considered “threatening,” as long as their lives & their needs and their basic human feelings are not granted the same value as white ones are, i will do my part to tell their stories. i will use my place of privilege as a white woman to evoke & provoke reaction & response. (& i know i will appear “progressive” for leading these dialogues, & not “angry,” as my black sisters are perceived for raising the same discussions… but if people think i’m “safe,”they’ll listen. it’s like dave chapelle’s “pretty white girl in a ball gown singing opera” approach… but with directing plays.) i will lose work (again), & funding (again), & friends (again), but i will not stop trying to bring voice to stories that have been too long suppressed. i will use the only soapbox i have -the stage- to bring understanding & empathy into this world. one audience at a time. it’s the least i can do in a world with as little justice as ours. i have no delusions that i am going to dismantle all of the systemic traditions of racism through plays. but it’s the one thing i have to offer this fight. if you are an artist & you are not shaking over #altonsterling & questioning what you can do to stand up speak out take part make change: step aside. leave space for the rest of us. there’s too much work to be done.