Nov 19, 2012

Katori's List

Katori Hall recently gave the keynote at TCG's recent Fall Forum, which I didn't get a chance to attend, so I'm glad to see that the speech is now up on the TCG blog. It's worth listening to in full, but a particular highlight comes around the 13:50 mark. Here are reasons, Hall recounts, that she was given for rejection of a play she sent around in 2009, from unnamed theaters:

1. "We don't know if we can find that many talented black actresses."
2. "We've already done an August Wilson piece this season."
3. "We don't know if our audience can relate."
4. "We've already done a play about a black lesbian."
5. "We've already done a play set in a barbershop."
6. "Our February slot has been filled."
7. "We've already done a black playwright this season who is not August Wilson."

As she bears down into the topic of diversity, she starts with excuse #1 to highlight one of the real challenges facing efforts to diversify American theaters, both onstage and behind the scenes: It's not so much a problem of recruitment but retention, not how to get artists and audience of color in the stage door, but how to keep them there. Retaining and rewarding talent strikes me as a trade-wide problem for theater, but it's clearly magnified in the case of artists and audiences of color. What's promising to me about this discussion, then, is that leadership on diversity, defined broadly along age as well as ethnic and other identity valences, might help rise the tide for all boats. One can hope, can't one? (The recent election's ratification of diversity, for example, points a way forward for all of us.)

Bonus: A Charles Isherwood diversion begins at 27:27.

1 comment:

Brendan McCall said...

Thank you for this article, Rob.

I'm amazed at some of the reasons Katori Hall was given, as to why her plays were not produced. "We've already done an August Wilson piece this season" strikes me as particularly sad: the author of this comment seems to see Mr. Wilson's extraordinary body of work as being by a BLACK man, primarily, and its value as theater, as plays, as somehow secondary.

Also, would any theater tell an author, "We've already done a play by a WHITE STRAIGHT GUY"? If not, why is it permissible to say "we've already done a play by a black lesbian?"