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December 22, 2009

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99

A very good riff. And the only reason I didn't give you your propers was I saw it on Lawyers, Guns and Money first.

I definitely agree that we need to ALL be less timid in our work, less concerned with "sending the right message." I know it may not jibe with my concern for the effect our images have, but I'd rather have honest portrayals and colorblind casting.

But black playwrights feel the same pressures to make sure the characters are uplifting for the race. When I'm thinking about the colors of my characters, I'm always conscious of the "message" the ending sends, even when I'm talking about something else. The more we can focus on the something else, the less we focus on the color, the better.

Josh James

I've written plays with deliberate integrated characters ... racially diverse to a specific degree that they couldn't be cast all white, and found I had a lot of trouble getting the plays produced, since most small theatre companies are all white, for the most part, and if there is a part for a person of a different culture, they'd prefer it to be a small part rather than the lead (biggest thing I've heard, "no part for me") and / or directors aren't interested in it for similar reasons (not sure who I "connect" to in the story), etc ... the plays are good, but hard to find a home for as a result ... now my most produced play is THE MEN'S ROOM (also the first play I wrote) which has six white guys in their 20s ...

Personally, my life is very culturally diverse, and color is neither ignored or the sole focus ... and I wish more plays were that way, too ... too often when race or culture is introduced, it has to be "the" issue ... when in life, it's just one part of a person or people's reality, and rarely their whole story or the total sum of their existence.

Duncan Pflaster

I'll certainly cop to having that "am I doing it right" issue when it comes to race; I've got a lot of white guilt I'm trying to overcome- my friend Paula, who is a wonderful black actress, has been in several of my plays (in fact, I've written a few roles expressly for her, sometimes making the character specifically black, sometimes not). In my association with her, I've felt freer to write black characters because I know she'll call me on my silly suburban whiteboy shit.

Paula understandably has issues with playing "maid roles", and I knew that- and still ended up casting her in a Fairy Tale play as a ladies' maid- who ended up saving her boyfriend from the wicked queen- and she was nominated for an MITF award for it.

My vampire play I did in the Planet Connections Festivity in June starred her in the lead,- and I started to get paranoid that I'd cast all the women in the play with actresses of color (2 scripted as black and latina respectively, one not scripted and cast Asian), and all the men were honkies, and what did that say about the piece, and stuff.

Yeah, so it's something I worry about.

Josh

My new play revolves around two housewives, one of whom is black in my imagination. I haven't written that into the script though, for the very reasons you describe. I'm a little afraid of it. Do I have to make a big to do about it, or just say "Oh, and this character is black. No biggie!" Also, since the play is about lower middle class women who become addicted to huffing and also realize that they hate their husbands and children (it's a comedy!) is it offensive that one of them is black, given that the subject matter is offensive anyway? Does putting a black family in the mix confuse the statement?

I dunno. Mostly I just want Ronica to be in a play of mine.

Marissa

Yes yes yes. I've been struggling with this--the expectation that to be a playwright in this day and age, not only do you have to know how to write good dialogue and structure a scene and all that stuff, but you also have to know how to finesse the most delicate nuances of race and gender representation, and go over every aspect of your script with a fine-toothed comb to make sure it isn't racist or sexist. File this under "stuff they don't teach you in playwriting class," I guess.

Speaking personally, I'm in my early twenties, and I feel like if I'm going to be a writer, I need to really quickly figure out how to write characters of color in such a way that no one can take offense, how to ensure that my plays enhance the diversity of the American theater and don't drag it down, etc. But many people who are decades older than I am still don't know how to do that! It feels like a lot of pressure.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist!

It is not just white males who are gripped by this fear.

I am a Deaf woman of color and my plays are very diverse with people of color, white people, and some queer characters.

But I have also been called a misogynist by some feminists who were offended by some of my female characters, and I have been accused of "hating white people" by WHITE audiences who claimed that I had an agenda against white people.

I say, f--k it all. Write what you want and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Jenny

I have, in the past, included a note at the beginning of the play with the character list that specifies that any ethnicity can play any of the roles, so long as families that are meant to be biologically connected look like that might actually be true. Is this enough? I doubt it. I don't know if it's sufficient colorblindness or sheer naivete to think that would solve the issue. Certainly my preference would be to create diverse worlds... But unless I'm writing a play specifically about race, I don't want the skin colors of the actors to create an inadvertent commentary, though it probably does -- and I'm rambling. I get really nervous when participating in conversations about race. I don't want to offend anyone, or lead anyone to believe that I don't think it's an important question. I DO think it's important, but that issue itself doesn't take thematic center stage in most of my work.

I suppose, in short, I agree with the sentiments of the above poster: To hell with it, write what you want.

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