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December 05, 2009


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This whole thing just makes me ask about a million questions.

Which large theaters do you think are failing to sufficiently diversify? I'm not saying that there aren't a lot of white male writers out there. But I'm also perceiving (maybe I'm completely wrong) a rise in women, non-white, and gay representation on many stages. Which is a very good thing. I don't think we shouldn't be vigilant, but we don't want to legally enforce a system where if you do an Arthur Miller play and don't follow it up with August Wilson, you get sued. That's a very slippery slope.

Also, many arts organizations have missions that aren't inclusive in and of themselves, but in context they add to diversity. The Women's Project isn't all inclusive. But it adds to diversity in context of other theaters. But if you add some legal component to the equation...could the Women's Project be insufficiently diverse in and of itself?

When you talk about the law, you need to better define your terms and what you feel should be made, in practical terms, illegal.

For example, would this legal challenge apply only to commercial theater producers?

Do you mean hiring practices? Like the staff at these theaters? Or do you equate hiring with casting, or choosing scripts? Because while they are similar, they also have a subjective, supposedly merit-based component that would be fundamentally compromised by applying standard laws about hiring to them.

Simon Crowe

The previous commenter has it right, your question is a little vague and has some troubling implications. Would you sue the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater if you learned they had an all-white office staff?

Ian David Moss

Because Home Depot has three bijillion employees. Most theaters have maybe a dozen at most. It's not always easy to be representative when you're dealing with small sample sizes.

Anyway, how many women do you think work at Home Depot?


I was talking, just to clarify about administrative staffing. And large theaters have a lot of employees, Ian. And the answer, Simon is (a) Ailey doesn't and will never have an all white staff and (b) yes.


In other words... aren't some of these issues issues of workplace discrimination? And if so, why aren't they ever talked about in those terms?

(for the record, I don't really think class action lawsuits are the answer, but a discrimination paradigm might open some new windows for thinking about these issues.)

Ian David Moss

For the record, I happened to go to Hope Depot tonight and there actually were a lot of women working there, so I take back my ill-informed comment. With respect to size, I guess it depends on what you mean by large. Even with 50 employees, I'm not sure it's realistic to expect every org staff to conform to the exact proportions of various racial breakdowns in the general population. So then it becomes a question of where to draw the line; what's unacceptable and what's just random chance?


So then it becomes a question of where to draw the line; what's unacceptable and what's just random chance?

Ian raises a good point; ultimately, you can only hire the people who show up. Should you choose not to fill a position because the pool of applicants is limited, even if there's a qualifed person in that limited pool?

Jack Worthing

Eventually this will lead to the intractable question of niche companies. 'The black faces at Manhattan Theatre Club are few and far between, so let's found a company devoted to female/black/gay/communist/radical vegan/etc. work.' Does that make things any better? The impulse is noble, but I tend to think it only makes the ghetto a little bigger. You tell me.


That's a tough question. Reading in made me think of the first ten minutes of "The History of White People in America," a mockumentary from the 80s. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089277/
Steve Martin makes a cameo and complains that he wasn't cast as the lead in the Wilt Chamberlain story.
So I guess what I'm wondering is this a question of color blind casting or about the lack of plays produced about minorities?


I obviously have many, many thoughts on these issues and I'm going to post some at my place, but I wanted to weigh here a little bit. In particular to Jack's point, the goal is actually to move away from niche companies and better integrate the larger institutions, actually. The question is what's the best way to do that and why doesn't theatre work the way other industries do, in terms of a legal solution. The big variable that Isaac is overlooking in asking the question (probably on purpose) is the question of talent. Theatre doesn't have a strict set of quality controls. If I want to be a lawyer, I go to law school, get a certain GPA, take the bar exam, get a certain score. So if a white male who has similar qualities gets a gig over me, I can say, "But see, I have these qualifications that make me his equal. Why didn't I get that job?" In theatre, we don't have those kind of benchmarks, even for the administrative jobs. I've been passed over some positions I felt I was qualified for in my time, but it's rare that I felt like I was passed over because of race. And I certainly can't point to a time when a play of mine was specifically passed over because I was black. It's a hard thing to prove.

The bigger affirmative action challenge (because, let's be honest, that's what we're talking about) is widening the pools of qualified applicants (I personally reject CLJ's implication that affirmative action means taking less qualified applicants). That's a larger issue.

And, lastly, to Ian: Again, this is something I want to expand on, but should we be thinking in terms of diversity and the general populace or the populace in the community where the theatre is? Should a theatre in Lewiston, Maine or Burlington, Vermont have the same racial make-up as a theatre in Atlanta, GA or East St. Louis, MO, because the nation as a whole has a certain make-up?


Eek. My piss-poor geography skills did me in again. East St. Louis is in Illinois, not Missouri. My bad.

Thomas Garvey

That's an awesome idea Isaac, sue the theaters. Definitely.

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