Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Beyond Hamilton: How Diversity Could Save the Future of Theater by Celanie Polanick

YES! Magazine: In 1980, Ralph Pena and his friends were young activists, doing political theater on the streets of Manila to protest the corruption and violence of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. Pena’s university theater troupe, Bodabil (“vaudeville,” later renamed Peryante, or “carnival worker”), created props and costumes out of whatever objects they could find, and from police hid their faces with masks they could throw away. With song, mime, and imagery that ranged from the nightmarish to the mythological, they created vivid dystopian satire that gave audiences new tools to understand the country’s increasingly hellish martial law landscape of poverty and censorship.

5 comments:

Xinyi Wang said...

For a number of socioeconomic and cultural reasons, Asian Americans have long been the silent group in art and entertainment. American theater lacks Asian performers and real Asian content. When a so-called "Asian story" is told, it is often appropriated and exploited through an unrealistic lens by a predominantly white audience (e.g. Mulan, The Last Samurai, and The Last Emperor actually). I am glad that this article is not only pointing out the importance of "color-conscious" casting, but also the importance to value Asian writers, designers, directors, actors, and the works they create. Asian writers and designers have so much to offer to American theater in terms of perspective, theme, and the experimentation of form. They are so much more than the number -- they tell stories in a way that highlight those interesting ideas and characters which are often ignored by the mainstream American society. I want to reiterate the view of Lavina Jadhwani in this article: she "believes in reinterpreting canonical works to tell more culturally nuanced stories, but recommends editing them to make more sense to the ears of postmodern audiences." For too long the American theater has been telling stories through the eyes of the privileged. More diverse perspectives will lead to a much more expansive landscape in the storytelling world.

Kimberly McSweeney said...

This article does a fantastic job as discussing the color issues on Broadway and in other such theatrical productions. Typically when people think of diverse, they jump right to the idea of “more black people”, but what this article defines as diverse is clearly more distributed than that. What I really appreciate about this article is that the author defines people of color as “Them”; this happens to be an established term in Gender Studies (circa 1700s) pertaining to the sex that is not male. This grouping and “Them” terminology is a great way to reset the frame in which people view diversity. “Them” encapsulates people of all genders, sexualities, races, and classes while establishing them as a group altogether. This unity between race, class, etc. is an important one to recognize because it tips the scale and allows for minority groups to be considered equal among one another and to be able to fight for equality in a conglomerate.

Samantha Brown said...

Theatre is slowly becoming more and more diverse even though it is the most diverse art form. It seems like more people of color are on Broadway since there are shows that are specifically for people of color like Hamilton, On Your Feet, and The Color Purple. It is very important that these shows are on Broadway to show different races on stage. The problem is that those are the only shows that have a large number of people of color in them. Having a few shows like this does not make Broadway more diverse. If Broadway were more diverse then there would be a mix of people in every show. Yes some shows traditionally have Caucasian people in them, but that does not mean that we cannot change that way of thinking. The Founding Fathers are all white men, but none of them are white in Hamilton. People’s views can be changed if they are shown that there is another alternative to look at.

Sarah Battaglia said...

OF COURSE diversity will save the future of theater. It is going to save the future of every other business as well, especially in the United States. This country is slowly become more and more diverse and as we do that we are going to have to break from the restraints of only white men to keep the country running. People of color are not going to want to work for places that don't respect them, same goes for women, and people of the LGBT+ community. We can see in hard data that shows that are more accepting do better. Hamilton is a work of art and probably the greatest piece of art that will be created in my life time. But it is also diverse. That is hardly a coincidence. We have to stop pretending like these ideas of diversity helping the country are novel ideas. OF COURSE when you respect everyone and represent them they will want to see your work, or work for you. I think that this article makes a lot of good points and while I am happy that they are being made I am a little tired of the fact that we are talking about them like its crazy they make sense. Diversity is a necessity. It is not only what is going to save theater but what is going to help our country.

Sophie Chen said...

This article was a very informing and valuable read. I think the author brought up a valid point about the fact that audiences of color don't watch theater as much as caucasian audiences not because they can't afford tickets, but because they don't feel welcomed and they can't relate to it. All of my Asian American friends watch TV shows and movies, but only a few of them are interested in or even watch theater. Apart from the accessibility of TV and movies, the fact that a lot of theatre contents being put out are not relatable at all to audiences of color results in the majority of the audiences being caucasians. This definitely has an impact on audiences of color, given how much of a shared experience theater is (whereas you can curl up in your room and watch a tv show by yourself). Also, I scrolled down and read the comments on the webpage of this article and the first comment says "Theater is in trouble and diversity is the only thing that can save it? Good lord, how did it manage to succeed for all these hundreds of years prior to this incredible solution?" This just goes to show that stupid people still exist to this day. We still have a lot of work laying ahead of us and a long way to go.

CMU School of Drama