Blog: Racism in Theatre (KCACTF Inspired)

Hi. I’m James. Twenty-one years old. Male. White. And I want to talk about racism in theatre…

To preface, I am honestly scared to talk about the topic. But on the other hand, I also realize that that is a major part of the problem. As much as I pride myself on being a progressive and liberal individual, this trip to KCACTF has opened my eyes more than expected.

Back in Harrisonburg, VA where I attend James Madison University, a select few students have struggled because of their race. As 1950’s as that sounds, it is still a prominent problem, but now with just a thick haze of but-racism-is-not-a-thing-anymore. It seems to me that the issue is highlighted and sparked when audition time comes around: Can a white actor and a black actor play brothers in a play? Would it be racist if the maid was played by a Hispanic woman? And do we even have enough diversity to do shows about race? The conclusion I came to turns out to be another question: To what extent can we tell the stories of others? I am currently on a journey to dig a little deeper. In the past, it seemed to me that I could sympathize, but had the need to stay quiet because I felt uninformed of the core trouble. But my silence was louder than I wish it were.

During the ten-hour trip through Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, I saw a little bit of everything. Passed through some quaint towns, viewed big cities from afar, and finally arrived at the festival in Albany. A flock of theatre people flies to a small university to showcase their work, but the most beneficial experience seems to be the exposure to a set of plays that are new to our mind. Shows dealing with race such as Race and The Bluest Eye on the Albany State University Stage and the devised pieces centering around specific recent events such as Ferguson seemed to be a common theme. Theatre for social change seemed to dominate*. This festival allowed students such as myself to be apart of an experience that I could not do at home because of our limitations. And on a more personal note, my best friend of Nigerian decent who traveled with me said she felt less isolated with her experience here at KCACTF.

As I plan my last couple workshops I want to attend, I like to think about all the things that I can take back home with me to my department. Hearing stories that need to be heard struck urgency within me. I have a clearer perception leaving here and I hope the problems whether it is ignorant casting or overlooked projects become jarring to me. Me, James. Twenty-one years old. Male. White. And finally speaking up.


*See my featured piece about theatre for social change: