The Arena Stage convened their conference on Diversity in Theatre this weekend and, contra Adam at Mission Paradox, I wasn't there. I was supposed to be, but it fell through at the last minute. Which was quite a bummer and quite disappointing and one of the things that led me to shut down a bit last week. The chance to go to D.C. and mix it up with the big kids for a couple of days was worth exposing my identity and I didn't get to do it. So, yeah, I sulked for a while. But sulking doesn't move the ball forward. So I'm shaking it off, rubbing some dirt on it, and getting back in the game. Like Ronnie Lott.
I just barely Twitter, but the #newplays thing was intriguing. Check it out. Isaac also posted a bunch of quotes at his place. Also worth a look.
I posted some brief thoughts in some comments at Isaac's here. After reading over how the discussion developed, it does seem that there are several axes that need to be looked at. I'm thinking there are three vectors of diversity:
- Artistic diversity: the diversity of artistic projects, styles, subject matters, forms
- Programming diversity: programming works that attract and interest diverse groups and cover a range of cultural voices (separate from artistic styles)
- Institutional diversity: creating and building institutions that are diverse in terms of staff and audience
What I think is rarely talked about in these discussions is the idea of time frames. Can all diversities be achieved in the same time frames? Are some more urgent than others? Do some take longer to develop than others? Are some more important? And at what levels? Using the word "diversity" to cover a number of different aspects of a diverse theatre can elide these questions and also provide an easy out: fitting all of that under the rubric of "diversity" makes "diversity" hard. And hard things rarely get done in an industry that's often underfunded, overworked and behind schedule. There just isn't time. How can we break the big "diversity" into smaller components? Is that an optimal strategy?
The Prof often talks about how one size doesn't fit all and I think diversity is one of those areas. As Ian did in the comment thread at Isaac's, I think the default is to think that every theatre should be representative of the U.S. as a whole. But if we're trying to build connection to our local communities, does that make sense? If a theatre in Lewiston, Maine conforms to fit a standard of diversity that matches the U.S., it won't really look like Lewiston. Same goes for East St. Louis, IL (I mistakenly tagged it as being in MO). This is one of those places where the overwhelmingly urban bias in how our theatres are distributed shows up. Building diversity is a problem when you're a majority-white theatre in a majority-minority town. But then you have to break it down further and ask what communities are being served, as well. It's a slippery slope into a thorn bush.
I don't have any easy answers for this and I think anyone does. But I'm glad we're continuing to ask the questions. Even though I couldn't make it, I applaud the folks at the Arena for the convening. It sounds like it was a really successful event.