After the last dust-up around race and theatre, I've backed off. It gets too contentious, too quickly, people I like say things I disagree with and everyone winds up with a bad taste in their mouth. But...just because it's hard, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be talking about it.
Playwrights and the Public are the first of the major NYC institutions to announce for 2010-2011, at least their tent poles and both are pretty white. We'll see how the other ones come out. Who knows.
Aaron, in Isaac's comments, asks:
It just seems like there's always going to be something to complain about, though. I mean, if not this, it'd be that they weren't having any female playwrights. This is NOT to say that there isn't under-representation. However, I'd be curious (again, I'm a stat man, so if this study already exists, please direct me to it) if there's a demographic study of the current pool of playwrights.Well. I don't know if he's heard about this book, Outrageous Fortune. Some folks have talked about it. You know, a little bit. Of the 250 playwrights surveyed, which I think would be "the current crop of playwrights" more or less, 76% were white and 24% were people of color, which, overall, hews fairly close to demographics of the nation (though that may change soon). So you would think that a quarter of the plays produced on our stages would be by writers of color. And, in New York City, which has a markedly different racial make-up from the rest of the country, you would expect something markedly different, particularly from our Off-Broadway theatres. (And if Aaron wants more demographics of the field, there's also this study. The findings are remarkably similar, which suggests it's a wider issue.)
I'm not trying to make a case for affirmative action or quotas here. They are something I believe in, that's for sure, and I support, but I do recognize that, given the nature of theatre, they're not necessarily optimal or even feasible. (Who would enforce them? How do you factor for quality? Other, far smarter people than I have some ideas and answers, but that's for another post.) But, to begin with, recognizing that there is a problem is the first step.
It's funny to me that we have no problem in other areas. Take this initiative. It seems like lots of folks are on board for that. Martin Denton's nytheatre.com has a whole section devoted to keeping track. I don't recall seeing any pushback on that front, any questioning of whether or not that's necessary or if the demographics of the playwriting pool demand it. (For the record, the Outrageous Fortune pool was 48% women.) I'm not trying to compare oppressions or get into my lot is worse than yours. I'm simply talking about the field's response to stimulus. Emily Glassberg Sands did her thing and we got this. Maybe if we have a study of minority playwrights, we'll get a section on nytheatre.com.
Anyone who's been reading this blog lately has seen that I'm pretty aware of the state of racism in this country these days. Contra freeman, this is part of that conversation. How does theatre confront the "actual" racism if we can't attend to our own houses? If we're only hearing part of the conversation?
To go in the Way Back Machine, Adam Feldman had a pretty good list of plays by black playwrights last season here. And that's not even the work by Asian playwrights or Latino/a playwrights. And that's not to say there aren't bright spots coming up. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about, to consider, to discuss.
Obviously, this should be the beginning of the conversation. But it's a conversation we need to be having.