Sunday, August 22, 2010

Theatre for social change, finale: Diversify your damn stage

Contributed by our Guest Blogger of the week, Mariah MacCarthy

Last post of the week! A quickie:

I’ve noticed a few situations in which a population (lesbians, say) is so rarely represented that whenever someone comes along and finally represents it, they get shit for the way they represent it because it’s supposedly unflattering or inaccurate. I’ve also noticed that lots of people who watch or make theatre seem to want more plays by and about people other than straight white men to get produced. I’ve also noticed that even though it’s two-thousand-and-frikkin-ten, plenty of people are still racist and sexist, though perhaps in subtler ways than ten, twenty, fifty years ago.

So while Theatre of Compassion is one way that I think social change can happen, I also have another, simpler idea: just diversify your damn stage.

You don’t need to comment on it. You don’t need to be preachy about it. You can sneak it on people—maybe sneakiness is an asset. Just, say, make your superhero an Asian lesbian. Or make the POTUS a woman like 24 did. Or if you’re a director, encourage actors of color to audition for you. Or if you’re an artistic director, consider that maybe you don’t need ANOTHER play about a dysfunctional white upper-class family in your season, or whiney boys who are sad about the mean girls that leave them for their douchey best friends. If that’s all that people are submitting to you, apparently that’s the image that you’re projecting of the kind of theatre you do, and that is your fault.

The more women/ LGBTQ peeps/ people of color/ people with disabilities/ people of various religions/ etc that we see onstage, the more room there is to celebrate a breadth of experiences without getting flak for not portraying these groups the “right” way. And for my money, the less “significant” it is when these groups of people are onstage, the better. I wish it were as unremarkable to have an all-female cast as it is to have an all-male cast, but sadly, such a move looks like a “statement” even where none is intended. If you WANT to make a statement, by all means, make it. But it seems like people habitually resist statements that look like statements, and I think we can make plenty of progress by just nonchalantly putting more diverse characters and actors on our stages, and normalizing that diversity.

What do people think? Yes/no/maybe? Am I off my rocker?

It’s been great blogging for y’all! Feel free to keep the conversation going at my blog. Ciao!


  1. I think part of diversifying theatre is doing away with the assumption that there is such a thing as a default or neutral human being. We all have race, gender, sexuality, class, and so on. When you make note of those things, homogeneity doesn't look bad or evil - just incomplete and weird - like like The Stepford Wives. As a result, the focus shifts from needing to justify diversity (as in, "Can a Black guy play Hamlet?") to questioning what we accept as the norm ("Does Hamlet have to be played as a straight White [cis] man?").

  2. Well-said. Maybe it would be more ideal for an all-male cast to look more remarkable rather than an all-female cast appearing less so. Just so long as there's a balance.

  3. The characters in my work have historically been very diverse. I do this for many reasons -- most of them personal and artistic -- and I will not stop.

    However, lately it has seemed hard.

    Twice in the last two months or so I have heard that a play I wrote for two white and two African American actors was un-cast-able. In one case, the theater decided to produce the play, held auditions, got no actors for the African American roles, and then canceled the production.

    Naturally, I can't stop doing what I'm intending to do creatively... but it hurts to have my work stifled because others aren't as diversity-minded (or diversity-capable) as I am.

    All of which is to say, really, that I'm grateful for this post -- the more we can get everyone pulling in the same direction (toward diversity), the better!

  4. Apropos of "24," it's strange to see pulpy television lead the way. The charming-but-disposable USA series "Covert Affairs" features a blind secret agent action hero without the slightest sense that they're patting themselves on the back for it.

  5. BRAVA, Mariah! This way of thinking is slowly becoming the norm, as long as we all keep spreading the word.

    Thank you for your guest posts - I'll be following your blog.