by 99 Seats
So. This hit my inbox this morning, both from a friend and in the always useful You've Cott Mail.
Well, as you can imagine, I have some things to say. I left a comment, as did a lot of other people. Lots of good thoughts there. Most of them focus on Tom's use of Broadway Stats. Obviously using an extremely small sample like Broadway to extrapolate not just to theatre in general, but to an entire race is very very very very very very very problematic. That alone basically undercuts his entire premise. But there are larger problems.
You know...ordinarily, I would have launched into this with my usual flame-y self and hurled the four-letter words with abandon. But, honestly, I'm pretty tired of that. This thing just makes me sad and kind of depressed. It makes me depressed that Tom wrote it. It makes me depressed that someone will read it and think, "Yeah, maybe we should ask that question." Or read this and think I'm saying we shouldn't question why so few people of color attend Broadway shows or what effect our marketing is having. I'm not. But then again, Tom isn't asking a question, he's making a statement.
He couches it as something that makes him feel queasy and uncomfortable, but it's got "a certain reality." Basically we all know it's true, but we don't want to say it. That's the part that makes me really sad. It's sad to think that white theatremakers think this is their bones. It's depressing and makes me wonder why I'm doing the work I do, bringing a community that loves theatre and wants to see more of it to theatres that are looking to build their audiences. It seems like a waste of time.
I know it's not. But that's what it feels like.
For the record, of course, black audiences and black theatres have had as long, as varied, as influential and important an impact as black artists. Let's just talk about the history of minstrelry, the Chitlin Circuit, the work of the Black Arts movement and the Negro Ensemble Company, just to name a few. Yes, the number of theatres is dwindling, but that's true all over. When a Shakespeare theatre closes, no one says, "Well, Shakespeare is just history." Even from the B'way stats that Tom notes, the majority of ticket buyers are women. Why not assume that men are just not interested in theatre and therefore no effort should be made to reach out to them? Tom doesn't make that leap. Of course not.
In the face of the facts of history, Tom simply asserts that our theatre is the result only of the influence of Europeans on our culture, ignoring the hodgepodge, one out of many nature of our country. All of that is wiped away. You can't make that argument without purposefully overlooking huge swaths of our history. It's almost like he started from his conclusion and didn't really even bother to make any arguments about it. It's simply evident that a low number of people of color in attendance can only mean a lack of interest. The plays produced mean nothing, the expense means nothing, nothing means anything except Tom's gut knowledge that black people are uninterested in theatre. So why even engage? I honestly don't know.
Tom, if you do want to engage and try to dig deeper, please do. I think you'll learn a lot.
In a similar vein, this has been making the rounds. As far as I'm concerned, it hits the nail on the head. It's sparked a lot of discussion and back-and-forth, which has been lovely, illuminating and complicated, good and bad. In the good column, there's this. When I think about all of this stuff, this part makes me feel better, because enlightenment is possible. I love this:
I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I think that white people (or some white people) don’t want to have to feel responsible or something. It has to do with guilt and with people thinking it is somehow easier to make yourself a victim than to take ownership over the huge problem of institutionalized racism in this country. People refuse to recognize their own privilege and deal with it. It makes me so angry and so sad. Because really the best way to deal with that kind of guilt is to fight against its cause and to work for social justice and social change.
That makes me feel pretty okay. Let's start there.