Theater artists decry racism in their industry

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Theater artists decry racism in their industry
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, a Tony-winning actor and director, in New York on Nov. 5, 2013 More than 300 theater artists on June 9, published a blistering statement addressed to “White American Theater” decrying racial injustice in their industry. Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times.

by Michael Paulson

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- More than 300 theater artists — black, indigenous and people of color — on Monday published a blistering statement addressed to “White American Theater” decrying racial injustice in their industry.

“You are all a part of this house of cards built on white fragility and supremacy,” said the statement, which was published on the web. “And this is a house that will not stand.”

The signatories include Pulitzer Prize winners Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda; film and television stars Viola Davis and Blair Underwood; and many Tony Award winners, including actor and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and playwright David Henry Hwang, who is the chair of the American Theater Wing.

The statement is the artists’ response to the unrest that has roiled the United States since George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

In the weeks that followed, as discussion of race relations has intensified, numerous black theater artists have taken to social media to describe experiences of racism.

Two playwrights have begun surveying theatermakers of color about their experiences.

The Broadway Advocacy Coalition, an organization pressing for social change, this week is holding a three-part forum “for the Broadway community to heal, listen, and hold itself accountable to its history of white supremacy.”

In Britain, a group of theater artists has put together its own letter, calling for greater disclosure about diversity statistics by theaters there.

There is even a petition circulating to make the Apollo Theater, the historic Harlem venue, a Broadway house.

The statement addressing “White American Theater,” outlining the ways in which, it argues, artists of color are unjustly treated in the theater world, declares itself to be “in the legacy of August Wilson’s ‘The Ground on Which I Stand’,” an important 1996 speech by the playwright about race and the American stage.

Headlined “We See You, White American Theater,” the statement repeatedly uses the phrase “we see you” to punctuate its observations about the theater world, and adds, “We have always seen you. And now you will see us.”

It expresses concerns about programming (“We have watched you program play after play, written, directed, cast, choreographed, designed, acted, dramaturged and produced by your rosters of white theatermakers for white audiences”); labor unions (“we have watched you turn a blind eye as unions refuse to confront their racism and integrate their ranks”); media (“a monolithic and racist critical culture”); and nonprofit organizations (“asking us to politely shuffle at your galas, talkbacks, panels, board meetings, and donor dinners, in rooms full of white faces, without being willing to defend the sanctity of our bodies beyond the stages you make us jump through hoops to be considered for”).

The statement comes at a time when most American theaters, including all of those on Broadway, are closed indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic and most theater artists are unemployed. As unrest in the country over race relations has intensified, many theaters, as well as many commercial theater productions, have issued statements decrying racism and pledging to support systemic change; some have also opened their doors to protesters.

It was not immediately clear who organized the statement, or what the collective’s next steps will be. Several signatories referred news media questions to an email address; an inquiry to that address was not answered. The statement was posted as a petition on, where tens of thousands of people signed.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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