BWW Exclusive: Tome' Cousin Speaks Up About the Lack of Diversity in Theatre
As BroadwayWorld previously reported, our team is committed to to being a substantial part of a collective industry-wide effort to help address racism and white supremacy in the theatre in as many ways as possible; including a number of specific steps of action that we are already at work to implement.
If you are a Black artist or an artist of color and would like to share your stories, your work, and your experiences, or to recommend someone else that we should get in touch with for one of our initiatives, please feel free to email us at email@example.com.
Below, read a piece (first published in 2019 and shared with us today) from writer and Broadway veteran Tome' Cousin. He writes:
Word has reached me that [a coming] season is to include a revival of the musical Dreamgirls. It recently had a highly successful run in the United Kingdom. This revival is to be directed by the truly gifted Tony Award winning Casey Nicholaw, another white male. The production history of this musical is perhaps the most clear example of the recognition of this topic. No major Broadway or touring production of this landmark musical has ever been helmed by a director/choreographer of color. What would DreamGirls look like if directed by an African-American woman? Or Once On This Island by a Haitian? How about Fiddler on the Roof or Ragtime by a director who is of Jewish faith? Or The King and I or Pacific Overtures by an Asian? In The Heights by a person of Dominican heritage? The Color Purple by an African-American woman? Or to make another leap entirely, how about My Fair Lady or The Sound of Music helmed by a South Asian or Greek American, or Crazy For You or Gypsy directed by an African-American? On the plus side: Joel Grey's recent outstanding production of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish was a huge step in the right direction, but when will we all take a much needed pause in the pattern to fully engaged and commit to this conversation?
Unfortunately, this practice of not hiring directors and choreographers of color is also common in multiple regional theatre companies across the United States with thriving audiences. While I truly believe artistic directors, theatre managers and boards of directors aim to diversify their repertoire and audiences, their continued participation in this pattern of hiring only white directors/choreographers actually precipitates an unjust result. More often than not, this practice will include the hiring of book writers, designers, choreographers and assistants of color all well versed in the cultural aspects and movement vocabulary of the project. They can offer historical and dramatic insights, movements, text, and dramaturgy in support of the white director. In certain instances, adding a recognizable artistic name as the choreographer or assistant of color can add a sort of twisted validity to a project, thus enhancing the theatre's reputation.
While the theatre company advances its profile, along with the director's resume and reputation, the choreographer of color and often the cast remain in subservient "for special hire" positions. Here's an all too familiar example: a theatre decides to include a cultural play or musical in its season to hopefully diversify and help broaden its audience. Wonderful, but then instead of seeking out and engaging a qualified director and choreographer of color, the white artistic director themself decides to helm the show/project with the raison d'être being, "I love this show and have always wanted to direct it!" And then, of course a choreographer of color is hired to cover the lion's share of the staging. As a fellow director/choreographer of color, my response to that reasoning is, "I love that show too, and would love to tell it from my point of view."
Thankfully, many theatre artists of color have begun to write, direct, choreograph and produce our own stories, but we should also have the same opportunities as other artists to reach beyond our own cultures and themes. Again I ask, when is the correct time to diversify leaders in the theatre industry? When is the now?