Saturday, October 4, 2008

Standing at the corner

So at the intersection of race and art politics there is a continuing undercurrent of not only who is black but also what makes a work black. Is it about parentage, blood line or appearance?

I met a young aspiring director the other day. He was quick to point out to me that he was of mixed race and I suppose that since I run a black theatre company he wanted to be sure that his light appearance would not be held against him.

First off I think that I have a pretty broad based idea of what constitutes being black. If you have the ancestry and the belief then that pretty much works for me. If you create a play and you fulfilled the qualifications of the previous sentence then to me it is a black play.

I have told people in my playwrights unit that if you want you can write a play about three white frat boys it is still a black play in my mind. Why? Well because I believe that the depth and breadth of black/human experience is more than just meditations on one’s ethnicity. Being black is not going to change in one’s lifetime and your experience of that fact will always be a part of what you create. However that manifests itself is just part of the artistic exploration. Even if you want to deny it fully then even that act is part of the whole deal.

There has been a lot of talk in some places about how do mixed race artists fit in. Frankly rarely have I seen as much hogwash written. In the black communities mixed race mostly means black/white combinations but in fact it is applicable to any combination of races.

The odd thing is that if your heritage comes from the slave diaspora then as a black person you are already mixed race. What passes today for black is mostly a hodgepodge of many different African/Indian/Caucasian tribes so the idea of a mixed race peoples looking down at a more current mixed race person and denying them their place in black art and culture is at best a vapid and uninformed view.

So where to go with all this? I explained some of my vision here.

I believe in inclusion. Inclusion in the fullest and best artistic sense. What new synergies have been lost because of our own self seclusion? How can we, standing at the aforementioned intersection, open up all our visions and let ourselves be open to artistic surprise. 

I think that the answers to all that is the work for the future. 
And yes, I did indeed offer that young director a chance to work with me on a project.


Anonymous said...

"I have told people in my playwrights unit that if you want you can write a play about three white frat boys it is still a black play in my mind."

No matter what we write, we write it from our experience. No matter what I write, it's a 'short, fat, cute, middle class, bleeding heart lefty, woman' piece. It is impossible for us to divorce our experience from our writing - and also, why would you want to?

So, I guess my point is, I can totally see why you still call that 'a black play'. If it's written by a black person, there is no possibility for it to not be influenced by that person's life experience, which will always be influenced by being black, as well as so many other things...

Megan Mooney

Obsidian Theatre said...

Hey Megan,

You would be surprised at the number of black artists who say that if a black person writes a play that does not specifically reference race or race issues then it is not a black play. That would be part of the "hogwash" I mentioned in the post.