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January 06, 2012

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RVCBard

To be honest, I can't even get mad. Everyone who has spoken to a theatre maker of color for more than two minutes knows that Tom's post and Scott's comment are both full of shit -- which is pretty much usually the case when those who are least invested in an outcome have the most to say about it.

Scott Walters

I have great respect for you, too, and for Tom as well. I know you both a bit, Tom better than you. I know that Tom is, himself, a person of color -- his mother is Puerto Rican. So from my perspective, your accusations of racism are unjust.

Tom asked a question: why is this statistic so stubborn? I agree with you and others: there are many other reasons to be weighed. Hell, I've spent years writing about those reasons, most recently in my Occupy Lincoln Center posts (esp Part 2). And I don't think Tom said "it's African-Americans' fault." He asked a question: what if it's intrinsic to the form.

In my opinion, this is an infrastructure issue -- it connects to everything from the way institutions are formed and funded to the way plays are chosen and the way theatre is promoted. And as someone who himself is in the midst of starting an arts organization, I respect what you are doing with your production company. But it isn't enough, in my opinion.

We have a racist theatrical infrastructure. I don't think there is any way around that. The individual people in the organization may not be prejudiced, in fact it is likely they are not, but the system is racist. It is set up to work against diversity in the arts -- racial diversity, gender diversity, geographical diversity. It serves and benefits the ruling class. Unless we are willing to address those larger issues, things will remain stubbornly the same. Creating our own projects within that racist system doesn't address the underlying injustices and inequities. Unless we can bring attention to the larger issues, unless we are willing to propose radical actions to change that system, unless we are willing to accept that this will damage some privileged institutions in the process, and unless we are willing to accept that our own personal careers might suffer in the process and do it anyway...then nothing will change. And our inaction will simply strengthen the status quo.

And RVCBard, your Twitter comment is to the point: if the idea is unacceptable in theory, why is it allowed to continue in practice? It is allowed because nobody is willing to put themselves on the line and propose a solution, or create a new model that makes the old one irrelevant.

I know Tom well -- he is not suggesting that a white theatre is "OK." Nor am I. But I think he is saying: if these stats are true (and the regional theatre audience mirrors the Broadway audience), and if these stats seem to stay the same from year to year, then is this acceptable, is there something intrinsic to the form that makes it less interesting to non-white people? And my question is: if the answer is No, then what are we going to do about it? But perhaps it is necessary to first ask the question: is there something intrinsically white about theatre? I don't think so; and I don't believe Tom thinks so, either.

Tom is a good friend of mine; I respect him as a thinker and as a theatre person. The ease with which you and others have characterized him as, essentially, a theatrical KKK-member is upsetting , and from what I know of Tom, completely wrong, and it is what prompts my defense. In addition, the ease with which people dismiss people who teach, as RVCBard did, and as I have encountered for the six years I have written Theatre Ideas, is another form of prejudice that is also destructive and divisive, and works against diversity in the theatre. Tom probably does more professional theatre in a year than most of the commenters do, so to call him (or me, for that matter) "least invested in an outcome" is the type of rhetoric that makes this discussion so worthless.

So rail on if it makes you feel better, and call peple names, but eventually somebody needs to speak truth to power and suggest ways to take back that power and redistribute it more equitably.

99

I think you're giving Tom more credit than his words deserve. Maybe you understand him better as you know him better. He's not asking if there is something intrinsic to the art of theatre. He's stating plainly that there is and because there is, maybe we should stop trying to interest other people in it. It's not framed as a question; it's framed as a conclusion. We're all reacting to his statements. If he doesn't believe so, if this is all some kind of "A Modest Proposal," I'm fine to offer an apology. But he hasn't said that, or even responded. If he does believe what he wrote, and stands by it, he should be able to take criticism and reactions.

Saying that efforts to diversify the theatrical audience are doomed to failure because the essence of theatre is outside of any ethnic group (or age range) isn't speaking truth to power.

Scott Walters

Rather than arguing with Tom through me, why not argue with me and the points I am making. Speaking truth to power means addressing the elitist, racist infrastructure of the theatre.

RVCBard

Hey, Scott.

First of all, that Twitter comment was simply retweeted from Tony Adams. If anyone deserves credit for raising that question, it's him.

Second of all, there's something a bit off about how you and a few other people are sort of barging into this conversation - one that's been going on in the blogosphere for YEARS - and positioning yourself as someone who is challenging us to have the courage of our convictions and actually do something about the wrongs we see, despite the fact that we've BEEN doing things for a while now (from creating a womanist poiesis to a theatre festival by and about Black playwrights). It is disgusting when people who have demonstrated neither knowledge nor interest in our work to suddenly go around accusing us of being too cowardly, lazy, stupid, or whatever to do anything about the problems we see.

99

Frankly, Scott, I think you know that I respect your work and ideals, so I don't fully understand the hostility you're showing here. And, I'm with RVC, you seem to be completely unfamiliar with the work we've been doing. I know some of that is on me, because I found it very difficult to blog reasonably about it, while at the same time doing it and maintaining a day job. I've opted to do it, rather than talk about it. Hence my relative withdrawal from the internets.

Yes, there is institutional, systemic racism and elitism in the field. But I don't think there is one magic bullet to fix it. Even tearing the whole system down can't be achieved in one fell swoop. There is more than one way to start a revolution.

I understand your frustration with different quarters of social media. I'd recommend just unplugging from those quarters and finding other places, other conversation partners. But pointing fingers at people who are actually doing things and complaining that they're not doing the things you'd like them to be doing isn't going to move the ball forward, either.

Scott Walters

99 -- Well, as my most recent post suggests, I am doing exactly what you suggest. I must confess to being baffled by this "late to the party" argument. But I suspect we could find blog posts on this topic on Theatre Ideas from long before either of you showed up on the scene. Which is irrelevant. What IS relevant is: what's to be done? I'm not arguing against anything you're doing -- I'm doing it too in another area. But neither of our work is enough to change the way things are. People may not like to hear that, but it is true.

RVCBard

Scott,

Why are you approaching this pervasive, multi-layered problem as though there is only one approach and one solution that will solve it? Anyone who's in the business of trying to transform society will tell you that there is no silver bullet, no Eureka! moment, no Final Battle that will make these problems go away. It requires many people doing what they can in their own communities.

At the risk of mischaracterizing what 99 is getting at, you are not "late to the party," but you have not really engaged with people who are doing things NOW. All you are doing is talking shit about us "armchair activists" who are not, according to you, doing enough or doing it right, as though you - more than any of us who are on the receiving end of theatre's race issues, gender issues, class issues, etc. - really know what it would take or really understand what it would be best for you to do (other than telling us what to do, say, and think about the problem).

If there is something you keep consistently getting wrong, it is this: you position yourself as though you are David fighting Goliath, or Socrates the gadfly of Athens. But the fact of the matter is that you are Goliath. You are the establishment. You stride into these conversations as though you are stirring up the status quo, bringing truth to light, or challenging complacency, but the effect of your actions, since you seem to be targeting the very people who've been persistently trying to change things in ways that benefit ourselves and our communities, is simply stomping on the people who are already being stomped on, ignored, excluded, or otherwise not deemed good enough.

The fact that you do not see this, and the frustration that results, is not a shortcoming on our part, but a symptom of the very problems that we are trying to change.

Scott Walters

RVCBard -- I am not saying what you, 99, or anybody INCLUDING ME isn't wonderful. It is. Truly. What I am saying is that we ALSO have to address what Marx called the "base," the underlying infrastructure that guides things in particular ways. In pre-Civil Rights society, African-Americans had to find some way to survive and thrive, and many did, but eventually the SYSTEM of segregation has to be addressed. It can either be changed, or (as Marcus Garvey did with his UNIA) it can be ignored by creating a separate infrastructure. I guess I'm feeling that the system's ability to co-opt and undermine attempts by people to change it makes a separate system an easier way to change it, but probably what really needs ot happen is to confront the current system in a way that it has to change.

Estelle

I have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging.

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