A couple of years ago, I got into it with a president of a local community theatre. I had started to notice that their six-show season always consisted of five shows with either all-white casts or principals with one show being predominantly diverse with Black, Asian or Latinx casts. For example, their year would be Legally Blonde, Death of a Salesman, The Sound of Music, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Hairspray/In the Heights/The King and I.
It felt as though this theatre’s idea of encouraging diversity was to only give performers of color(POC’s) one show to take the reins on and the rest of the season would go back to featuring all-white principals or casts. It literally felt like their production of Hairspray was the theatre’s “Negro Day”.
Of course, when I pointed this out to the president, I was met with shock and anger. I was told that this theatre encouraged diversity and doing one diverse show a year demonstrated that. “Because it gives them their moment to shine,” he said.
“But couldn’t you give them those moments to shine all year instead of just one show?”, I asked.
He didn’t know how to respond to that.
Valuing and encouraging diversity goes beyond just doing one diverse show a year. It means casting POC’s in every production a POC can be cast in. So if a theatre was doing Legally Blonde, why not have an Asian Emmett or a Latina Paulette or even a Black Elle Woods?
That would truly show embracing diversity instead of just doing one Black/Asian/Latinx show per year.
While this might be easier said than done when it comes to geographical areas and how diverse they might be, I hope that many community theatre are thinking about this. By being inclusive across an entire season, it not only puts different faces on stage, but whose buying tickets as well.