Many have heard me pontificate on this subject. This is a theatre-wide issue. Luckily, TYA, which changes thinking so often is positioned to make a vast difference in how we think of Multiculturalism.
Before I launch into the benefits of multiculturalism as an art form, I’d like to talk about the benefits on the business. Multiculturalism is simply good for business. It opens up new audiences, donors, and participants. These are groups who participate in the arts ALL the time. Sometimes, access to the arts are not readily available or affordable, but every culture and every human participates in the arts. Organizations simply have to invest time in making sure that their organizations reflect the desire to be multicultural.
You can make your organization feel like a home for a diverse population of people by:
– Diversifying your staff, board and volunteer base; (These diverse opinions will have a direct effect on your outreach efforts and core programming – in a good way.)
– Diversifying your instructors and actors on your stage; (When race is not a plot point, multicultural casting is very cool!)
– Diversifying your marketing materials by capturing and promoting photos of the diverse population you have inside your organizations. (On a side note, I know some people of color who count the number of multicultural faces on their catalogues. Go back and look at the materials that you are putting out there and see how your organization may be reflected to the community you may be trying to collaborate with.)
Some people may feel like this is exploitation. “Put the one Asian kid and the Latino teaching artist in the catalogue to show that we are multicultural”. I say, this is a celebration of a starting place. How best can you show that your organization is for all.
How many of our organizations only reach out to African American populations when the show that we are producing is about African American culture? This is NOT diversity or multiculturalism. This, in fact, could be considered the opposite and/or opportunistic. Reach out to diverse populations for every show and event!
On to the art form!
At the moment, I do not subscribe to the notion that, in order to create art about a certain culture, the creator has to be of that culture. The creator does have a responsibility to be truthful, respectful and as authentic as possible. The essence of diversity is about the sharing of differences. However, often, diversity manifests itself in the separation of cultures. I hope that one day, “playwrights of color” will be so vastly produced and commissioned that they will be able to write whatever play they want to write – stories about their culture and stories about other cultures. (I hope the same for ALL playwrights) Sadly, and presently, there is a dearth of work for “playwrights of color”, so perhaps for now, the responsibility is to only commission “playwrights of color” to write their stories. Maybe someday, this country will be so diverse that a “playwright of color” can just be called a “playwright”.
Furthermore, a challenge to theatre’s and “playwrights of color” – lets balance out our cannon or work, so that there are as many plays about the celebration of our contributions as there are plays about the travesties of race relations and acculturation issues.
It frustrates me to see that most of the time, when there is a play about a “minority” the whole experience of the characters in the play are reduced to the thing that makes them a minority. As a black, gay man, I certainly spend much of my life reflecting on and experiencing things that are unique to those characteristics, however, I have a lot of other things going on, too! Right? Well, where are those plays?
Lastly, put artists of color in lead roles in your plays. When race is not a plot point, mix it up! It’s very cool for a little African American girl to see an African American actress playing Lilly in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. Thank you!