Photo by Areon Moebasher for Justice Theatre Project's production of "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf" by Ntozake Shange.
For the past few years, I’ve been immersing myself in Black theatre, specifically theatre written by Black women. (Why am I capitalizing Black? Read this New York Times article.)
Like theatre written by women, Black theatre was largely absent from my education. Women, Black people, Asian people, Latino people, and basically all playwrights that aren’t male, straight, and white are missing from the historical record of plays. Not from life; we are HERE, I swear, making excellent art all over the place. So why aren’t we in the books, the bookstores, the classrooms, the vast majority of theatres, and the historical record?
Our dramatic works are taught at such low levels that we are practically invisible, not just to the general population, but even to students deliberately seeking a theatre education. Perhaps you think that I’m exaggerating. Perhaps you would be surprised to know that my 1,000 page theatre anthology textbook had only 4 plays by women in it. Despite the fact that it ran from B.C. to modern Broadway, it contained more plays by Sophocles alone than by the entire female gender throughout documented history. Add race to the equation, and those numbers get even worse.
When I discovered that I had been consuming almost solely works by white men, I felt cheated and betrayed. I was missing giant swaths of theatre, history, and culture. The plays that I had been going to see for entertainment purposes were similarly pale and male. If you take a look at your own education and entertainment thus far, you will probably discover similar injustices.
Ok, so, now what? Clearly we cannot support teaching, learning, consuming, and absorbing only the works of straight white men. I’m not saying we have to stop enjoying those works, but I am saying that we need to shift the balance back towards equality. So how do we fix this?
We attack the problem on three fronts:
1. Do your homework.
Read plays written by people who are different than you. Seek them out, do this on purpose. Read a play that you would never be cast in. Have you ever read a play by a Latina author? How about a Native American one? Want some help? You can start by ordering and reading some of the plays on THIS LIST.
This is not hard homework, this is fun! Plays are fascinating to read, and I promise, that list only contains riveting works. You’ll have to order them, though; your local public library and bookstore also carry mostly works by straight white men. University libraries are better: if you have access to one, use it!
2. Pay attention.
Which companies in your area stage plays by women of color? Which companies address LGTBQIA issues? Which companies hire mostly white male directors? Which companies only stage plays by written by men? Do you know the answer to these questions? If not, it’s time to start paying attention.
Here’s an incomplete list of some local theatre companies, and the plays/directors/actors/designers/writers they select. Notice the races, the sexes, and the ages of those people in general. If you have information to add, please add it to our database! And start reading your programs with diligence.
3. Show up.
This is the most important thing that you can do. Is there a play going on near you with mostly Black actors about the Black experience? You should go, especially if you’re white. Is there a play about women happening nearby? You should go, especially if you’re a man. Broaden your mind, yes, but also, show your support with your dollars and your presence.
You might be afraid to do this, because you might worry that you are “butting in” where you do not belong. The exact opposite is true. It is your responsibility, as a person who wants to be kind, equitable, and fair, to go hear a different side of the story, to expose yourself to a culture you didn’t grow up in. Also, it is likely to be an amazing theatrical experience that you will enjoy!
Here’s an easy place to start: Justice Theatre Project is putting on a staged reading of "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf" by Ntozake Shange. Tickets are very inexpensive. It’s this weekend! Click on this link, buy a ticket, and go.
The Missing are not gone in real life, only from historical records. In fact, we are actively making theatre near you! The Women’s Theatre Festival only produces works written by women. Black Ops just put on the Bull City Black Theatre Festival in Durham. MOJOAA Performing Arts has an upcoming show called “Reclamation 2018, Plays written by and about Elders of Color,” on July 21. Justice Theatre Project has been focusing on works by and about the Black experience for years, and their upcoming season is all about women. Raleigh Little Theatre hosts an annual preview night in early spring that highlights most of the local upcoming theatrical works by Black playwrights. NRACT has a show in its upcoming season called “The Gay Card.” Star Pocket Theatre will very shortly perform “The Member of the Wedding,” about a young gender-queer person.
Unfortunately, if you’re a theatre-lover, the odds are that you’ve been inadvertently guilty of mostly patronizing the works of straight white men.
You can fix this.
Do your homework, pay attention, and show up.
I’ll be at the JTP “For Colored Girls...” show on Saturday, April 21, at 2:00pm. I would love to see many white faces in that audience. I would love to run into dozens of my male friends. I would love to see many white members of the Women’s Theatre Festival supporting their Black sisters.
We, The Missing, don’t want to be missing anymore, and we don’t want you to miss out on our art, either! So, it’s time for you to start showing up. Or we’ll miss you. :)