by Isaac Butler
Making the rounds of the internet today is this report that less than 25% of roles on New York City stages were played by actors of color from 2011-2012.
99 and I have been sounding the alarm on this issue for so long that I don't really know what to say. Every time this issue comes up and there's evidence that there's under representation of people of color on our stages (and in other jobs, the two are related) someone chimes in to say we need more statistics, or more anecdotes, or more something and tries to shift the debate.
I want to be all even handed right now but this is such a depressing topic for me, so I'm just going to say I'm tired of having a debate over whether this problem even exists when it seems so glaring to me that it does.
I do not believe that any role can be played by any race, there are times when racializing casting choices really does have impacts on a play and production that must be considered. At the same time, I call on my colleagues to use this as an opportunity to reconsider how they go about casting and about picking and staffing the plays they produce.
Part of the issue here is that we love to think about the art we make as proceeding organically. But change doesn't come without self-conscious efforts to change. Thus, making self-conscious efforts to change something about our artistic practice feels inorganic, and thus like we're forcing our art. I get it. I get that it's uncomfortable. I sympathize. I get that, for example, it's very hard for white writers to write characters of color and that there's a lot of justifiable fear about doing it wrong. But it is never going to get better if we don't try.
Right now, we have theater in one of the most diverse cities on Earth that on all levels, Broadway, Off, Off-Off and Indie is perpetuating an all-white myth on its stages. This must change.
UPDATE: The AAPAC report also names names, which I forgot to mention: