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How To REALLY Bring "Diversity" To Your All White Non-Profit Theatre Company

Operation: Consciously Diversify

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Let's face it...

Olivia Luna / Via

...while we've made some great strides over the years, Theatre is still predominantly a white actors game. However, many young non-profit theatre companies are undergoing earnest efforts to diversify and create more opportunities for minority groups to have their stories heard. If you're looking around your table and finding a lack of representation, then here are a few suggestions for creating inclusivity:

Do Your Homework!


Reading David Mamet and Tennessee Williams does not make you a theatre expert. Pick up some scripts from playwrights of color and become a more well-rounded and open minded individual. Study stories of the oppressed from people who actually experience them. Start with the historically famous such as Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson and Lynn Nottage. Then turn up the heat with some Amiri Baraka, Luis Valdez, Pearl Cleage or Rick Shiomi. Finally, push yourself to seek out scripts from modern day writers who may not even be published yet. Ask around or put out an open call for new writers of color. Read EVERYTHING that hits your inbox.

Go Out and Show some Love <3

No matter where you live, there are prominent theatre companies of color who are thriving. Don't just poach actors, resources or audiences from their theaters. Go out to their shows, pay for a ticket and offer a dialogue around potential collaboration or partnership. Basically: "You scratch our backs and we'll scratch yours". The only way we can really diversify theatre as whole, is by working together. Some great spaces to support in NYC: The National Black Theatre, WOW Cafe, The New Federal Theatre, Theatre of the Oppressed, and the Pan Asian Rep. (comment with other Company favorites from your city below)

Do NOT lean on your one POC!

If you are fortunate enough to have at least one person of color on your staff, do not expect for them to take the lead on your diversifying initiatives. Take them out for a drink, and hear their ideas and opinions. If they offer to help, GREAT! But if they'd rather just continue to do the wonderful work they've always been doing, then leave them be and step the F**K up, white folk! Dragging out your one token employee of color to every performance or fundraiser does not make you progressive. Learn to make more friends with people who don't look like you.

Make the Space in your Season

At the beginning of your theatre season, take a look at all the shows on the books. If you haven't made space for at least one show that specifically looks at relevant social issues, then you're not doing enough. No one needs to see another rendition of Grease (even if you make it an all black cast). Instead of trying to reimagine already famous plays written by white playwrights, dare to try the NEW. Film is showing us that when we take a risk on stories that intentionally focus on people of color, they can pay off in a BIG way. These voices deserve to be heard, so make space for them.

Cast Consciously, not just "Colorblind"

At it's core, "colorblind casting" has good intentions. However, where most companies fail is taking into consideration the relationship between the role your casting colorblind in correlation to its white counterpart, and the historical legacies that may be at play. For instance, Romeo and Juliet were not specifically written as any particular racial make-up. The majority of the storyline is focused on young love and familial disputes. However, once you decide to cast them from different ethnic backgrounds, then the sinister shadow of systemic racism now lurks amongst the tale. You can do your best to refute or ignore it, but trust me when I say, "Your audience WON'T". To deny historical legacy is not only irresponsible (and in direct opposition to operation "diversify"), but you risk placing your actor of color in the position of being the spokesperson for their race. Once again, do your homework, ask questions/engage in dialogue, and cast consciously.

Put us at the Foundation

For the love of God, don't be a Matt Damon. Diversity belongs at ALL levels of a production, and (in my opinion) most importantly at the foundation. The saying is true that, "two heads are better than one", but when one of those heads is filled with experiences and understandings that are far different from your own, then your project is going to turn out 10x better!

And finally, don't give up the FIGHT!

Navigating the waters of social inclusivity is never easy. You're going to get into a lot of challenging conversations. You'll constantly be told to check your privilege (which you absolutely should). Keep in mind that at any point, you could stop fighting for diversity and your story will still be told. For POC, we don't have that option. If we don't push for more spots, then the theatre world will be perfectly content with keeping our pool small and shallow. However, when we all strive for global storytelling, then everyone wins!

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