Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Not So Quickie

Kelly Nestruck of the Globe and Mail has a couple of interesting articles up. One from the pulp edition and one from the blog.

I have been in discussion with Mike Wheeler {Praxis Theatre} about my segregation blues post.

Mike says: Also, Kelly Nestruck has an interesting post today on his interview with Tracy Letts that tackles segregation in American theatre and how Steppenwolf is handling it. They're treating it like a bad thing that can be dealt with by race-blind casting. Thoughts?

I say: Whoa! Thats a big subject. The dream in the US has been about integration. Well at least from the liberal and black communities. Do a Google search with the key words "segregation 21st century" and you will get a very different point of view. Well, you will get a reality that usually doesn't get discussed. The point is that for many {read minorities} integration is not working that well. It works better for the majority since the minorities get to change to become like the majority but they still don't get to hang out in the same places or get the same funding levels.

Steppenwolf is in a bit of a bind I think. They are an ensemble company and like ensembles here they started with a group of like minded people. As is often the case like minded is also like raced. And that's where the real difficulties begin. For Steppenwolf I daresay segregation is bad and they are doing what they can to approach that in a way that make sense for their ensemble.

Tangent alert: We often talk about succession plans for artistic directors and boards but very, very rarely for the ensemble itself. And perhaps that's the biggest issue of all. How does an ensemble continue when the founders move on and you are left with a different racial climate than the one you started in.

So what to do? Race blind casting works for a bit. Maybe do nothing and hope that it all goes away. Put up a Potemkin village of artistic accessibility and keep going to the funding trough. Or maybe, just maybe admit that you haven't a clue how to change and that we should be...ta daaaaa...moving on to my original premise....change the system so that the diverse companies can get the funding they need to grow into becoming powerhouses themselves.

I think Mike, that one of the things we don't discuss in all of this is what is the goal, the desire, the dream of the smaller companies. I don't mean anything pejorative here but if the goal is to be the equivalent of Junior B or Junior A hockey teams then fine. If it's to have a company for a few years and then move on, excellent. I can get behind that. But what if the goal is to become one of the big guys. If that is the "prize" we are keeping our eye on then lets not get bogged down by the tangents and the small pieces of fruit that are tossed at us. If Nightwood or Necessary Angel say, had the latter for their goal 20 years ago how different would our theatre ecology be today.
I want us all to define our prize and to then go for it with the same tenacity and dedication that got the Four Seasons theatre built.

The targeted browning of our stages that we are currently seeing is not the answer. It's a small piece of fruit. Good enough for a snack but not enough to make a pie.
We can continue to be mice getting by on the crumbs of grain or we can own the farm. I know which one I want. How about you?


Michael Wheeler said...

Hi Philip.

I found this piece a week ago and have not yet formulated a coherent response. But I have to say you are bringing me around....


ps I know! Those fast talking pigs told us things would be different when animals took over the farm...

Obsidian Theatre said...


Thanks for responding Michael. I was wondering if I had lost you.
I am happy to continue the discussion because it has been so helpful for me to have to clarify my thoughts.