Haven’t we moved past this idiocy?
The air goes out of the room when Desireè Myers finally speaks up.
“I just don’t feel like I fit here,” Myers tells the two dozen or so participants in a Gazette-organized discussion about the lack of diversity in local theater. A trained actor, she hasn’t been cast in a professional production since 2008. Before that: 2004. “I’ve given up.”
Myers is black.
It’s possible, of course, that she’s not cast because she’s untalented. Maybe she’s sensitive about racial issues. Or maybe Myers has good reason to feel excluded.
The story is from the Sunday Colorado Springs Gazette on the lack of diversity in local theater. I kid not. Serious liberal hand-wringing on display:
In 2009-10, the major companies — the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company, TheatreWorks and in their first seasons, Springs Ensemble Theatre and the newly resurrected Star Bar Players — cast 15 minority actors. With the exception of TheatreWorks’ and New York artist Ping Chong’s “Invisible Voices,” which was built around the stories of six locals living with disabilities, none were leads.
The final score: 15 actors of color to 174 Caucasian actors.
The numbers are even starker when you go back a few years. Since the 2006-07 season, the FAC and TheaterWorks have cast 928 roles. Fifty-six minority actors were cast: The FAC with nine and TheatreWorks 47.
Producers and directors explain the imbalance by saying the minority talent pool in the Springs is small and non-white actors don’t show to auditions. At a Fine Arts Center audition for the Gershwin extravaganza “Crazy for You,” 225 actors came out. Four were actors of color. None were cast.
Maybe that’s no surprise when most plays and musicals are written, produced, directed and acted by whites — white men, in fact. In city of 325,921 whites (according to 2009 numbers provided by the city), audiences, too, are predominantly white. If you’re among the city’s estimated 88,000 non-white Springs residents, you will rarely find yourself on stage, hear your stories and even see someone there who looks like you.
As with any count-the-number-of-minority-number-crunching, someone’s feeling’s are hurt as a result of the exclusion:
“If you don’t see yourself on the stage or on the screen, you’re erased,” says Sharon Jensen, director of the New York-based advocacy group The Alliance for the Inclusion in the Arts. Jensen is white. “You’re invisible.”
Of course, the “expert’s” skin color has to be noted. She’s white. But she obviously knows how it feels to be excluded, right? Maybe she felt the angst of females banned from Shakespearean productions.
The lack of diversity in theater, while particularly acute in the Colorado Springs, certainly isn’t unique to us. Even theater meccas like New York City fall short of equal casting, especially in lead roles. How many Hispanic Broadway stars can you name? Or playwrights or directors?
“It’s not an equal playing field yet,” says Jensen, who, as head of the New York advocacy group, has been at the front lines of this issue for 21 years. “Far from it.”
In fact, a four-year study of professional theaters revealed more than 90 percent of actors in American shows from 1982 to 1986 were white. If “cultural” productions like “Dreamgirls” were discounted, those numbers went even higher.
My jaw dropped reading this yesterday over coffee. So Colorado Springs falls short of some mythical standard of multicultural casting that isn’t even the standard in New York City? Why then all the whining?
What’s the excuse for the obviously racist theater directors who are all, um, liberal? (Liberal racism, oh, no, it couldn’t be, could it?)
“It wasn’t so much overt racism,” Jensen says carefully, “as people doing business as they always had. Those people were primarily Caucasian. They were drawing on a pool of talent that was Caucasian because that’s what they knew.”
Ultimately, Jensen says, it’s not an issue of employment, but of doing the right thing. Tony-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, who is Asian American, puts an even finer point on the problem in a 1990 interview by The New York Times.
‘’The real issue is not who gets cast,” he said, “but that any organization continue(s) to perpetuate and encourage stereotypes at the expense of artists of color, which borders on 19th-century imperialism.’’
Hwang was referring to the casting of Jonathan Pryce, a white actor, as the Eurasian lead of “Miss Saigon.”
The Actors’ Equity Association agreed, first barring Pryce from playing the role he originated on London’s West End and then reversing their decision. Pryce won a Tony for his portrayal and played the role on Broadway for 10 years.
Imperialism, of course. But at the hands of white liberals. No wonder the angst.
Question: if, according to liberal doctrine, a white man can’t play the part of a minority because he couldn’t possibly be as culturally sensitive and attuned, then what makes it kosher for a minority to play the part of a white? See why this gets so stupid in a hurry?
Want to know how stupid? Read on:
[Clinton Turner Davis] also maintains that you can’t task a white director to helm “A Raisin in the Sun,
” Lorraine Hansberry’s classic exploration of black family life.
It’s a slap in the face of every minority director looking for work, he says.
“If you have a true commitment to increasing diversity, then the programming would change,” concludes Davis only days before heading to Asia to translate the national poem of Vietnam. “You don’t do ‘1776’ (the Revolutionary War musical running this season). You do something else.”
To the question of whether he’s contradicting his own high standards by presuming to interpret someone else’s culture, he laughs.
“I’m a very culturally sensitive person,” he says. “I’m stepping into this with tremendous humility and profound respect.”
I will give the author of this liberal angst on display props for pointing out the obvious hypocrisy of a black director who rails against the idea of a white person directing a “black” play.
Of course Davis possesses the cultural sensitivity, humility and respect for his project–the translation of a national poem of a culture with which he holds no bond or tie even though he condemns the same from any white who dare do the same. But no one else can possibly have the same degree of cultural know-how as a liberal black college theater professor. Especially someone white.
I’m sure Davis agrees with the argument that a white English teacher cannot possibly teach Invisible Man or Native Son. For that matter, maybe woman should be barred from teaching either one? By his measure, what makes him think a black teacher can “access” Shakespeare? No one asks that question. Of course, they say, a black teacher can teach Shakespeare because Shakespeare wrote about the human condition. What makes Native Son or A Raisin in the Sun any less human?
I loathe the politics of multiculturalism because it leads to division, not unity.
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