BWW Blog: Is Theatre Racist?
On June 1, 2020 Griffin Matthews, author of the off-Broadway show Invisible Thread posted a video on his Instagram titled, 'Dear Amy Cooper: Broadway is Racist,' where he shared his experiences of racism working in the New York Theatre industry. This profound video has opened space for many other artists of color to share their stories about racism in the theatre.
This past week I had the amazing opportunity to have discussions with two of my friends and classmates, Rodney Thompson and Viviana Goodwin. I listened to their experiences and asked about changes they would like to see in the industry going forward. First, I asked them "What has your experience been as an artist of color?" Rodney talked about how in high school the color of his skin wasn't something he felt held him back, but when he got to college that changed quickly. He said, "it was hard coming from a place where being Black is something special to someplace on the opposite side of the spectrum, where it was something that prevented you from getting roles." He then went on to talk about an instances in college when he had a great audition but didn't receive a callback. When he went to faculty to discuss his audition, they said he had indeed had a great audition, but they just wanted to keep the cast uniform. Viviana said her experience "started off very well and very optimistic, but as time went on, the reality of being a black woman in theatre set in." She also shared instances similar to Rodney's, she said in high school "even if I had the best training, or if the director would tell me how good I was, I was never cast or wasn't cast in a prominent role because of looks"
Next, I asked them "What kind of change would you like to see in the theatre industry as a whole?" Viviana said she would like to see more conversations happening within the industry between "people of color and leaders in the theatre community like directors, heads of music programs, deans, casting directors, casting agencies, and anyone in a position of power;" She feels that may start to address the disconnect that exists. She also emphasized the importance of empowering people to start those conversations, theatre leaders listening, and bringing grace into those conversations. Rodney said that "a big change I would like to see is change being normal." He wants the industry to take a leap of faith without it being viewed as a leap of faith. He also said that the change while it may not be seen as a whole lot, to people like him that change is everything.
For many college students pursuing a degree in the arts, whether it be in Musical Theatre, Dance, or Arts Management, Broadway is THE career. This led me to ask them the question "What kind of change would you like to see on Broadway specifically?" Rodney said a big change he would like to see in New York is "more appreciation for people being brown". He also talked about how he would like to see casting strictly based on talent. One final thing we discussed about change in New York is the need for more black stories on Broadway such as Ain't too Proud, Tina the Musical, and Choir Boy. Rodney mentioned how shocked he was when Ain't too Proud announced its Broadway run because not many black stories get told in New York. Viviana said she would love to see New York theatre leaders participate in diversity training as well as casts of different shows and agencies initiating much-needed courageous conversations recognizing that racism could be affecting your cast.
Finally, I asked Viviana, "To ensure change happens, what would you like to see from someone like me (who is white) and desires to be a leader in the theatre industry?" She said the main thing she would like to see from white students in the industry is empathy and listening to help the learning process of becoming allies.
I hope the main take away from this post is how crucial conversations and listening are to the future of theatre. I am so thankful to Viviana and Rodney for sharing their stories and having these courageous conversations with me.