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.
Get Your War Clothes On: Billy Porter Energizes in GLAAD Acceptance Speech
So, I have a question.
In the same line of thought as “innocent until proven guilty,” do we grant the assumption of positive intent in our expectations of our brothers and sister in regards to woke-ness, à la woke until proven problematic?
Now don’t get me wrong, there was no doubt in my heart that Tony and Grammy Award-winner, Billy Porter, was woke. Nope, none. What I wasn’t ready for, was the way he fixed his fingers to pen one of the greatest acceptance speeches of my lifetime, and how he turned the Gospel classic “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired” into a battle song.
The 28th Annual GLAAD Media Awards honored Billy Porter with the Vito Russo Award, presented to an openly LGBTQ media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equality and acceptance.
He started by affirming the room full of members of marginalized communities, with my personal daily mantra: “You are enough. we are enough.”
Since the beginning of time artists are the folks who engage critically and encourage those who think they are powerless to question the status quo.
Brothers and sisters across the room leaned in.
The days of shut up and sing are over.
Alliteration informed and illustrated as Porter preached on remaining “vigilantly visual” as we tell our stories. Acknowledging the reality of our times, he spoke on Number 45:
Where they slipped up this time is in that declaration of war. It’s not only against Black and Brown people and Queer people anymore, it’s against ALL of us. And as a result, the good news is: white folk, and straight folk, and all those fierce women folk, are mad now. And NOW maybe something might get done!
Get. Your. War. Clothes. On.
From slavery to emancipation, to the 13th Amendment, to Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights Movement. From Stonewall to AIDS, to marriage equality— we gotta remember the shoulders who we stand on—the ones who fought and died for those freedoms that we hold so dear. Let’s use these historical strides we’ve made as a nation to empower us as warriors on this battlefield of equality.
Until we can figure out how to love one another unconditionally, no one wins. Freedom. Equality. Justice. Have always come at a cost and evidently the always will.
If that’s not the truth.
Stay strong. Stay vigilante. Stay visible. Stay hopeful. Stay focused. Be brave. Be fierce.
For a full list of this year’s winners, honorees, and guests, visit GLAAD.
Jazmine Sullivan: The Next Singer-Songwriter To Write A Broadway Musical?
We recently caught up with Jazmine Sullivan at The HeLa Project, a multimedia exhibition inspired by the HBO film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
Like the rest of us, Jazmine is in awe of the under-told story of Henrietta Lacks and her instrumental role in modern medicine. We further asked about why she got involved with the project and she said: “Anyway I can give light to an extraordinary woman like that, I’m there.”
Some of the integral women in bringing this story to light have their roots in Broadway: Tony Award-winning producer Oprah Winfrey, who not only stars in the film, but also credited as executive producer, and Tony Award winner Renée Elise Goldsberry, who portrays the title character.
We wouldn’t be Broadway Black if we didn’t keep it real.
Let’s be honest, we can’t get enough of 11-year-old Jazmine singing “Home” like she wrote the piece, so we got to asking, and it turns out Jazmine wouldn’t mind putting her pen to paper to create a musical for the Broadway stage.
She said performing on Broadway isn’t in the plans for the near future but, “You never know! I love writing and creating characters!”
God!? Oprah!?!? Stephen Byrd & Alia Jones-Harvey?!?! Who’s going to snatch this up?
Until then, it sounds like we have some new music to expect. What kind of musical would you like to see from Ms. Sullivan? Sound off below in the comments!
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