CMU School of Drama

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Still in transition: DC theaters, seeking leaders of color

New Pittsburgh Courier: Who would have bet that the country would have elected a Black president before any of Washington’s biggest theater troupes had an artistic or executive director of color?

“It’s not necessarily from any ill will, but more from ignorance,” says Jennifer L. Nelson, who led the now-defunct African Continuum Theatre Company until 2006 and is a resident director with the rapidly evolving Mosaic Theater Company. “And a lack of inclination to change.”


Sarah Boyle said...

As this article pointed out, part of the trouble with a lack of diversity in artistic directors and comparable leadership positions is that there is so little turnover. That said, I think that articles like this show that these is a building climate towards diversity and being aware of a need for greater diversity. And it’s not just within theatre professionals. The Washington post did an excellent job during the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival of following the whole festival, with articles about a wide range of the shows and about the festival as a whole. The article also references Ari Roth being fired, which I remember prompted some sort of petition among other artistic directors. There is some ignorance and inertia, but I am hoping that in the coming your that will be overcome. And while I respect the theatre’s in the article for making casting and directorial choices that are (realistic? appropriate? Not sure what the right word here is) I hope that they are conscious of not over correcting and pigeonholing minority groups into only working on productions as or about being a minority.

Emily Lawrence said...

This article was really informing about what is happening in the industry with directors and how many of those are people of color. I had not realized that there were so few that are currently working, but it also makes sense to some degree. Directors will work in the same place for a very long time, so it is difficult to hire a new one if they do not plan on leaving anytime soon. And if that director had been working there for years and nothing changes, it would be unfair to that director to lose his/her job over the color of their skin. I do think that it is difficult to really understand why there are so few people of color due to how competitive and subjective the business is. While I am not saying it is right to higher someone because of the color of their skin, I am not sure if it is fair to say someone was less deserving due to their skin color as well. It is a hard thing to judge, especially since it is really beginning to become highlighted as an issue. The more that people talk about the more I think it will become less of an issue, because it will become so common that people no longer think of it as an issue. I do think that there should be more directors of color, but it is hard for me to agree that it is not right that those who have their job do not deserve it.

Angel Zhou said...

It is unfortunate that this is still an issue in the arts industry. I generally have found that the more diversity you have, the more creativity you will get. Of course, you do not need to be an executive director in order to be a part of a team, and I believe I have noticed an increase in African American diversity in theater recently. Though this is a conversation for another time, I do wish that there was also some discussion on increasing the inclusion of Asians, eastern and western, in the world of American theater.

To revert back to the issue of a lack of African-American leadership, it is good that this problem is being acknowledged. It should not be just an issue of race, though – it should be about the benefits that diversity brings to the table, especially in an industry that requires so much creativity. This is recognized briefly in the article, though, when it is mentioned that Gardiner would like to have more racial inclusion for the purpose of diversity.

William N. Lowe said...

This article really isn’t that surprising to me, especially after living in DC my whole life and learning about the history of the District. Most exemplified through the ’68 Race Riots centered around U St. after the assassination of Dr. King and the ’91 “Mt. Pleasant Disturbance” (doesn’t the name say a lot), but also through the addition of Rock Creek Park and the development of WMATA’s Metro Rail System, the tales of horrendous race relations in our Nation’s Capital are deep and long. Unfortunately, DC also has one of the largest theatre scenes in the country, so the fact that a city which has one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country and is a leader in the theatrical industry without a diverse leadership is worrying. This is especially true because of how relevant race is to theatre right now with its current commercial status, and it is important that DC catches up and begins to become more race conscious with its leadership because as someone who has gone to DC productions their whole lives, it shows.

Simone Schneeberg said...

Authenticity is such a big issue, as I see it, in the push for diversifying the arts. Everyone wants to do new works that are "woke" and spread open-mindedness and awareness to the public about the issues we face. However, there's the problem about authenticity in the motivation for sharing these works and hiring other voices. The hope is that everyone wants to diversify because not only is it right because people are people and they deserve to have their genius shown when genius surfaces, but because it is important to spread awareness in this day and age. Yet there's also the chance that it's superficial, that people are in authentic in their reasons because they lack the background and experiences needed to relate. There's the perception that people are only supporting diversity to look open-minded and look good in society. It's a perception I find detrimental to the cause; if we're super cynical of progress, how will we get progress at all?