Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Challenge This

So, I've thought about this a bit more and, I've gotta say, as a black playwright, yeah, I'm a bit offended. I hate to pick a fight with a critic, even being anonymous writer, but...uh, yeah, I'm offended. Because the basic subtext is "A bunch of you are doing well, so what the hell are you bitching about?"

Well, what am I bitching about? To start with, I wasn't bitching. Read the post again. I'm not bitching that there's discrimination or whatever. I know that Lynn won the Pulitzer. And, yeah, Adam's right: I've missed some shows lately. But I know Thomas Bradshaw is black. And I haven't missed the press Broke-ology got. I'm pretty sure that my brother-in-anonymity Jack Worthing knows that, too. Did I ask where the black playwrights are? No. I asked what's the state of the scene. And I'm still wondering.

The thing that I love about Roy Williams' piece is that, that's what he's saying about English theatre: it's flourishing and diversified, but he's wondering what is it about. I'm wondering the same thing: what is it all about? Who are the black people we're seeing on stage? I'd even expand it further and ask are we seeing black people in ONLY the plays by black playwrights? What's wrong with asking the questions?

I find it mildly disturbing that a critic at a major magazine in one of the "centers of American theatre"* doesn't think there's any sort of story to any of this. And I find it even more disturbing that the full extent of his response is four paragraphs and no apparent attempt to contact any of the playwrights he mentions (or any others, for that matter) to ask if they feel the same way.

And maybe they do. I'm honestly wondering. I'll be honest with you, and, for once, risk outing myself: I contacted a number of black playwrights I know, under my real world name, to ask them about this last week when the 4th anniversary of August Wilson's death rolled around. (If any of you are reading this, I do intend to follow up, though now it's a bit complicated.) Because I know what my issues are as a black playwright in this city and this community, but I don't know if those feelings are shared. I think it's worth more than a list of titles. And I do think it's worth asking what the state of minority theatre is in general. Given the coverage and responses to the whole Emily Glassberg Sands study, does saying that Lynn Nottage, a woman, won the Pulitzer eliminate the problem? Or Sarah Ruhl has one of the most produced plays of next season make it all go away? Or are those outliers? Isn't worth it to try to find out? It's a glib, easy answer, particularly coming from a critic.

I know I'm just a blogger, and an anonymous one at that, so glib and facile is my stock in trade, but I expect more from Adam and from Time Out. I think we should expect more from ourselves and each other.

*I pretty much just threw that in there to make Scott mad, like the good old days.


cgeye said...

Thank you for simply asking, "what's going on", as if it's not a problem or anything, but like the Guardian article.

It's not like the mau-maus have to be rising up, or Rodney King being beatdown, just to ask "what's in their heads", exclusive of any present Administration.

(and thanks for coming out, that little bit)

Anonymous said...

I have to side with Time Out on this one. You asked why there wasn't a conversation, and they gave their answer. To then say that you expected more (from a blog post? really?) and to get specific about what else you wanted to hear...well, it seems to me that if you don't understand why the conversation isn't happening, the thing you should be doing isn't antagonizing other people into talking. You should be starting the conversation yourself. Perhaps not anonymously.

99 said...

See my post above, Anon. I wasn't setting out to start this conversation, here. Hell, that was really only a sidebar, in my mind.

Scott Walters said...


99 said...

Except you did! It's like a paradox!

cgeye said...

Instead of merely name-dropping, TIME OUT could have, I don't know, taken the suggestion and produced a story? But maybe since it wasn't February it wasn't the right time for them.

And didn't TIME OUT complain a while back that the theatrosphere wasn't sustaining its end of the nourishing theatre blog conversation, and that it missed the old cfireworks? Well, it had the chance to strike the match to the kindling, but instead chose to piss on it.