The Great White Way

Recently, more than 300 Black and Indigenous artists and other people of color (BIPOC) who are theater professionals published a statement addressed to “White American Theater” denouncing racial injustice in the theater community. Among other things, the statement decries the absence of BIPOC individuals involved in theater programming, including playwrights, directors, actors, choreographers, designers, dramaturgs and producers—as well as the theater establishment’s “relegating a token, if any, slot for a BIPOC play.” The statement chastises the lack of effort to build relationships with BIPOC communities and takes aim at labor unions as well. It is a powerful rebuke—blunt, specific and detailed in its accusations. It ends: 

“About theatres, executive leaders, critics, casting directors, agents, unions, commercial producers, universities and training programs. You are all a part of this house of cards built on white fragility and supremacy. And this is a house that will not stand. This ends TODAY. We are about to introduce you . . . to yourself. Signed, The Ground We Stand On.”  

Signatories include many Tony Award winners as well as Pulitzer Prize-winners Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

There is no denying that some of the best productions from the 2019-2020 New York theater season—not to mention numerous seasons past—were those that were created by BIPOC artists and focused on BIPOC issues and themes. Two of the most compelling works to me were Slave Play on Broadway and the 2019 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama, Fairview, performed Off-Broadway. Both plays tackled issues concerning race and racism with incredible creativity and ingenuity. Hopefully, the mirror being held up by “We See You, WAT” and other initiatives will help bring about more diversity and efforts for active inclusion, and cause additional profound works, realizations, and revelations to come to fruition in future theater seasons across the country.