If you connect the dots, a pattern appears which could be considered…well, controversial. It seems as if white people, about 2 out of 3 of whom were born outside the metropolitan area, have migrated to NYC and created a theatrical ghetto, producing theatre primarily for white people while being surrounded primarily by non-whites. In other words, in a city where people of color are in the majority, the theatre being produced appears primarily to be for the minority whites.I talked a bit about this same study here. Tom asked for and got some additional information. Honestly, I'm loathe to get into a whole "damned statistics" situation here. It's not really my bailiwick. I do think it's worth noting that this study is about participants, not audiences. I don't really quibble with his leap, since it's been documented for other segments and discussed here, there and, well, everywhere.
Honestly, I think Tom (and Scott) are missing the forest for the trees here and looking at the situation from a kind of privilege. This study covers a certain segment of the Off-Off-Broadway theatre, is by no means comprehensive or complete (as the authors state here) and, as someone closer to the ground (though not fully of that world) can tell you, is already a bit self-selected. Reading his post put me in mind of this post by Ta-Nehisi Coates and this part, in particular:
In case you don't click through the link, he's talking about this study about the poor response rate black women get on the dating site, OKCupid. What both of these studies don't take into account is self-selection and the segregated nature of our society.
But that said, I think that people passing this data around need to be really careful about using this study to draw inferences about the dating world of black women. One significant problem is that, as any black person will tell you, when black folks date online they don't go to OKcupid. They go to blacksingles. They go to soulsingles. Or if they're truly high post, they go to EliteNoire. (Dig the sensuous piano riffs and candelabra.)
Even amongst the forward thinking world of Off-Off-Broadway theatre in New York, there is a significant level of segregation. And what that winds up meaning is that the black theatre remains off the radar. I don't mean to fault the fine folks at the Innovative Theatre Foundation, who are doing good things and did a good thing. We need more studies like this. But there are networks and connections for black theatre artists that don't connect to the community of indie theatre in any visible way. A young black theatre artist, coming to New York from an HBCU, say, isn't necessarily going to find a home at one of these theatres. They might at the New Federal or the Negro Ensemble Company or Urban Bush Women. They might find the Frank Silvera Workshop. They might find a group at a larger theatre like Going to The River.
Tom and Scott are exactly right: a lot of the indie theatre community is formed from college students flocking to New York after graduation and then working with their friends and peers. Which necessarily leads away from diversity. You work with people you know. And if all you know are other young, white kids, that's who you work with.
Where Tom and Scott and I part ways, of course, is in the question of what to do about it. They prefer to attack the NYLACHI mindset, to encourage artists to head to rural areas, or back to where they came from. I want to encourage the artists here to look around and actually write and create for the New York around them.
I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately, for a variety of reasons. One, I'm currently reading The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead and falling in love with New York again. Recently, I've gone to see quite a few shows, and, for all of the talk about the New York bias and whatnot, I've actually seen very, very few by either New York natives or even set in New York. I've seen plays set in rural Pennsylvania and suburban California and rural Texas (granted, that one was set at the turn of the century, but still...). In the last month or so, I've seen three plays actually set in New York and they were all set amongst the upper classes.
When I write, especially lately, I'm trying to write for the New York I know, the people I see on the subway and on the street. That's the audience I want to reach. I don't want to turn this into a big, chest-thumping roar about how Scott doesn't know what he's talking about; I don' think that's particularly productive. But...it's one thing to live here, to know this city and another to read about, or listen to how others talk about it.
Most of our indie theatres are pretty white, that's for sure. But that's not all of the independent theatre going on. Hell, look at the blogosphere: as far as I can tell, there are only two black playwrights in New York, apparently. But I know that's not true. We're just the ones you can see. The same is true for black theatre. What we don't have is integrated theatres. That's another matter.