Race-and-Multiculturalism-in-the-Theatre

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Race and Multiculturalism in the Theatre

In the last module we discussed the differing relationships we have with one another, the people and situations around us and how our behavior changes based on who we are with, where we are at and the circumstances that tells us the nature of the situation, event or circumstance in which we find ourselves. We have discussed how so much of the way that we view the world and interact with one another is based on our own personal view of the world, our experiences, the way we were brought up, socially, culturally, religiously, politically and our reaction to it. We have discussed our behavior and the way that we express ourselves to one another can sometimes be personal, public and even professional.

When we take a step back from our own lives and relationships and look at the multiple cultures, sub-cultures and ethnic groups that are represented in the American Theatre and cinema, we can see that the influence of their own story telling comes from their own rich traditions, histories, struggles, fights and hopes that those cultures and people groups have been working and striving toward for centuries.

Here in our second discussion, we are working through the history of African American Theatre and its influence on American culture from the turn of the last century to today. You have now read about the rise of African American Theatre, cinema and culture in America, its influences and the direction it has been on.

With all of this background now from your viewing of Wilson’s play “Fences”, supplemental materials provided to you through Titanium and your own personal sense of multiculturalism in the Theatre, T.V., and Film, please read the following excerpt from Brockett and Balls text, The Essential Theatre about August Wilson’s view of African American Theatre.

Race, Funding and Multiculturalism

At the 1996 Theatre Communications Group Conference, August Wilson made an impassioned speech about the lack of support for African American Professional Theatres, which he judged essential if African Americans are to explore their own culture and History in a context that is not dominated by white society. He pointed out that present funding policies reward mainstream white Theatres for occasionally including a minority play in their repertory, a practice that keeps African Americans subordinate by making their lays only a token part of Theatres offerings nut sufficient to divert funds from African American Theatres. He also denounced “colorblind” casting that places African American actors in roles written for whites, “which is to deny us our own humanity.” Overall, he saw these practices as keeping African Americans in a subsidiary role by making it difficult for them to explore their own history apart from the dominant culture.

This speech led to a heated exchange between Wilson and Robert Brustien, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre. Brustien charged that Wilson was advocating cultural separatism. Whereas he himself favored bringing everyone together so we may achieve a “single value system.” Many others were soon involved, and in a January 1997 New York Town Hall meeting, Brustien and Wilson debated the issue. Ideas remained the same but positions remained largely unchanged.

In March 1998, a five day conference of African American Theatre personal was held in New Hampshire; one day of the five was open to others –about 300 people including Theatre personal, and business and foundation executives. At the open Meeting many proposals were made, most of them positive, but few solutions were reached. Future meeting were planned for more detailed consideration of particular issues. In 2002, the controversy was still ongoing. (Essential Theatre, Oscar G. Brockett and Robert J. Ball 8th Edition, 2004)

Questions(s):

Do you agree with August Wilson about Color Blind casting and it denying the humanity of those actors playing roles written for white actors in the American Theater?

Could color blind casting say that we can look above and beyond race to the nature of what humanity is and how we can experience it?

Can you explore the human condition and experience devoid of the divisiveness and history of race and race relations?

Can the human experience BE voided of race and still be compelling?

Is Brustien’s “Single Value System” a more thoughtful and socially uplifting approach to the way we should be telling stories?

How do you think the “Single Value System” would work in your own words?

Notice that this article was published in 2004. Based on all of your information now and your own familiarity with pop culture, film, entertainment and the Arts, how do you feel we are different now 11 years later with respect to multiculturalism in the theatre, the Arts, entertainment, film and television, pop culture and most specifically with African American actors? In 14 years how do we even feel about saying “African American” as opposed to “Black Actors”

Start a thread and in subject put “(your full name) – Be sure to copy the questions above and post them with your answers!!! – Minimum 150 words – Use complete sentences and correct grammar.

Part 2: Your Comments: Read and respond to two other students’ answers. Make sure you are specific and identify who and what you are responding to.

Remember, your answer needs to be at least 150 words total and use proper English grammar and syntax, and you must reply to at least two other students’ posts.


first student answers : Thomas

Do you agree with August Wilson about Color Blind casting and it denying the humanity of those actors playing roles written for white actors in the American Theater?

I personally disagree with August Wilson’s view on Color Blind casting. I can see why giving an African American a role meant for white actors can be demeaning to them, I also feel that theaters should be open to casting actors of different races. For me what ultimately matters when someone casts an actor in a play is their ability to perform and what they can add to the role. If that means casting an actor of a different race than what was written in the script, than adjust the script accordingly if the major themes of the story stay intact. One of favorite examples of diversity casting would be the casting of Norm Lewis in the 25thanniversary of the musical“Les Miserables”. Despite the fact that a Black man would have almost no chance of being put in a position of power within French law enforcement like Norm Lewis’s character Javert. The racial aspect of his character was ignored, as the actor was able to deliver a great performance with the character anyway. Supporting my belief that an actor shouldn’t be cast purely on the basis of race, but rather their ability to perform, act, and what they can add to the character.

Could color blind casting say that we can look above and beyond race to the nature of what humanity is and how we can experience it?

No, because one’s race is a part of their identity. We are all human beings that is undeniable, but we all have our own identities and race plays a large part in that. Our experience will be altered by past events and race usually plays a role in how our past plays out. In terms of color blind casting, I don’t believe casting an actor is the same as experiencing the nature of humanity.

Can you explore the human condition and experience devoid of the divisiveness and history of race and race relations?

No, because the human condition is largely determined by the identity of the human in question, their identity being partially affected by their race, the history of their race, and race relations.

Can the human experience BE voided of race and still be compelling?

The human experience cannot voided a race because their race determines a large part of what they are. Even if we approached the human experience from another angle, say portraying a cyborg, or a super-intelligent ape, whose experiences are similar to humans but they are not humans. Their race still plays a large part in their identity in terms of how their past experiences and future experiences affect them.

Is Brustien’s “Single Value System” a more thoughtful and socially uplifting approach to the way we should be telling stories?

Not necessarily, one must consider that a Single Value system prioritizes the value set by one group over all the other groups that exist. If we for example based the system on values created by white males, we deny the values of the various other cultures that make up our world. Thus accepting the system would qualify as accepting ignorance and denying the existence of other cultures.

How do you think the “Single Value System” would work in your own words?

I think the Single Value system puts a value set by one group of people above everything else. Ignoring the cultures, views, and values of other races and putting the view of the one group above everything else.




second student answers: Michelle

Do you agree with August Wilson about Color Blind casting and it denying the humanity of those actors playing roles written for white actors in the American Theater?

The film and theatre industry is notorious for placing minorities and people of color at a disadvantage. August Wilson’s statement on color blind casting is reasonable. Casting a Black actor/actress for a role that does not pertain to them, lacks to recognize their full potential as an actor/actress. I agree that it denies Black actors/actresses their humanity. It is erasing the history and background of Black actors/actresses.

Could color blind casting say that we can look above and beyond race to the nature of what humanity is and how we can experience it?

Color blind casting does not seem to look above and beyond race. If the role is already intended for a specific race, then it is not exploring diversity. I believe the reason for casting a non-traditional actor is to make it seem that the production is diverse, when it is really making it difficult for the actor/actresses.

Can you explore the human condition and experience devoid of the divisiveness and history of race and race relations?

When exploring the human condition, it is difficult not to recognize the divisiveness and history of race and race relations. It is not simple to say that every human has experienced the same difficulties, when different races have experienced far more hate and challenges than others.

Can the human experience BE voided of race and still be compelling?

When the human experience voids race, it will still be compelling. Race is part of what defines a person, but there is also a person’s character and personality. Every individual has a unique character and personality that makes them interesting.

Is Brustien’s “Single Value System” a more thoughtful and socially uplifting approach to the way we should be telling stories?

I understand Brustein’s statement on how he believes color blind casting is bringing everyone together, but I also believe he is not fully acknowledging the different struggles races have encountered. This system is trying to make a point rather than to recognize the hardship it will bring to the actor/actress.

How do you think the “Single Value System” would work in your own words?

The “Single Value System” works on casting non-traditional actors to roles that would not pertain to them. The value of this system is that everyone deserves a role, even if it is for a specific race. This type of system claims to take on an approach of diversity, but it fails to recognize the difficulties it brings to their non-traditional actors.

Notice that this article was published in 2004. Based on all of your information now and your own familiarity with pop culture, film, entertainment and the Arts, how do you feel we are different now 11 years later with respect to multiculturalism in the theatre, the Arts, entertainment, film and television, pop culture and most specifically with African American actors? In 14 years how do we even feel about saying “African American” as opposed to “Black Actors”?

In my response to multiculturalism, I believe it is still in progress. On regular TV, there is a lack of black entertainment. There is also a lack of black actors in films and on television. I believe Black actors are still cast in stereotypical roles. I think people feel more comfortable saying African American as opposed to Black actors.

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