Wednesday, February 20, 2013

10 Commandments for 21st Century American Theater - through the eyes of a yellow face

Imitation is the highest form of flattery ... so let's raise a glass to the Old Testament Big Guy.  I love telling people what to do, so here's my response to recent race discussions in the Chicago theatrical community.

1.  Thou shalt not use makeup, masks or prosthetics to suggest or obscure an actor's ethnicity.
This is akin to pulling back the corners of your eyes and then claiming that you're Chinese.  It's tasteless and puerile.

2.  Thou shalt not invoke "artistic license" when questioned about cultural choices made in your production.
If you're grown up enough to put up a production, you're grown up enough to justify and explain your decisions.

3.  Thou shalt not leave ethnic breakdowns out of casting notices.
By listing ethnicity or delineating "open ethnicity," you will increase the numbers of appropriate actors at your auditions.  I cannot logistically go to every audition for non-specified females.  Also, you don't get to leave out ethnicity from your audition notice for a culturally-specific play and then claim that not enough ethnic actors showed up.  

4.  Thou shalt not mount a culturally-specific play without cultural consultation.
This is does not have to fall on your dramaturg -- they are busy enough.  Get a Cultural Consultant like they did for Kite Runner or get a local Buddhist monk or a community member or your friend's immigrant mother ... get someone.

 5.  Thou shalt not ask ethnic actors to find other ethnic actors and call that your "minority casting call."
The ethnic acting communities are large enough that, believe it or not, we don't all know each other.  Also, new faces show up everyday.  Give everyone a fair shot at your play.


6.  Thou shalt not expand the acting opportunities of white actors in the name of "multi-cultural open color-blind casting."
No other occupation allows 20% minority inclusion and then starts taking away jobs from minorities in order to hire more white people.

7.  Thou shalt not dismantle new or unfamiliar culturally-specific work with "multi-cultural casting" and invoke Shakespeare.
The classics are part of the active literary consciousness.  If I put a collar on my cat and call him Macbeth, people will expect him to be a badass cat.  You can't put a white woman on stage, call her Mariko Matsumura and expect me to know what the hell you are trying to say.

8.  Thou shalt not give all the leads to white actors, cast minority actors in subordinate roles and be unaware of the message you are sending.
A production with a white king, a black servant and an Asian "dog" is not ok ... even if it is The Royal Shakespeare Company.

9.  Thou shalt not invoke white people's money as a justification for discriminatory practices and programming.
The white public can relate to stories containing minorities as evidenced by the aforementioned Kite Runner, August Wilson's plays and even Harold and Kumar.  And guess what? My money's green, too.

10.  Thou shalt remember that theater is capable of incisive exploration of the present human condition.
"I want to burn with the spirit of the times.  I want all servants of the stage to recognize their lofty destiny.  I am disturbed at my comrades' failure to rise above narrow caste interests which are alien to the interests of society at large.  Yes, the theater can play an enormous part in the transformation of the whole of existence."  Vsevolod Meyerhold

... aaaaaaaaaand "Scene!"