The Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC) recently released their list of productions for the 2015-16 season. The list includes dynamic dramas and wonderful comedies by Sam Shepard and David Lindsay-Abaire and include some of the most talented performers and directors Broadway has seen, such as David Hyde Pierce and Holland Taylor. They have works that are Tony- and Drama Desk- worthy. It’s safe to say MTC is going to have a fantastic season. Nothing could possibly make it better.
Except the only thing that the MTC did not include this year were works written by people of color. Their season’s writers include one woman out of the eight shows planned. But can we say that we are shocked?
Why does theater (like other media) have such a problem in terms of gender and race? Is it so hard to find quality female and playwrights of color? Much of it probably has to do with the history of theatre. We are always taught that Shakespeare is the ideal playwright; he’s what we should all aspire to be. But this means that it will always be plays and musicals by white men that keep getting produced. Most of the revivals made are productions directed by white men because they were also written by white men. And since people keep going to see them, they will remake the same plays over and over, year after year, unless there are new works to give underrepresented groups a chance to be seen and heard.
You would think this history would be incentive to diversify the content, especially considering MTC’s artistic director, Lynne Meadow, is a woman. Can you imagine the Classical Theatre of Harlem producing shows that weren’t written or directed by a single person of color?
After the MTC season was announced, the internet immediately responded with their disdain. That prompted Meadow to release a statement about the content; “I don’t deny the fact that this season is anomalous in terms of the percentages of diversity on our stages,” she stated. “It’s just how the season came together.” Interesting.
However, the diversity issue isn’t lost on MTC. In the past decade, Manhattan Theater Club has had five seasons, including last year, when at least half of the plays had a female playwright. Over the last four seasons, Ms. Meadow said, 43 percent of playwrights and directors at the company were women and minorities. Of its 49 commissions in the past four years, she said, 28 went to women and minorities.
So what happened this year? Where race and equality have been at the forefront of issues facing this country, the Manhattan Theatre Club should have chosen to diversify its content and not ignore the issue.