Ethnicity in Theatre

Last summer Time Out Chicago had a feature article discussing the race barrier in Chicago. Prior to the articles publication Eclipse had already announced their 2007 season playwright, African American writer Pearl Cleage. A mostly white theater company producing an entire season of theater by an African American playwright. Could this work? Eclipse has had success with the first two production Blues for an Alabama Sky brought home 5 Jeff citations alone. Since the article several Chicago theatres have followed suit, whether it was the Time Out article or the plan was in the works prior to publication. Steppenwolf added 6 new ensemble members, 4 out of 6 are African American, in addition to the daring color blind casting used in their current production of The Crucible. Did Time Out strike a nerve with Chicago theatre companies or did they just recently become aware of the color barrier?

Read on to see what prolific African American playwrights think about the subject:

In an interview Cleage states:

“a lot of white theaters that do our work don’t do it in an environment that encourages us to come. White theatres mights do one play a year, and it’s always A Raisin in teh Sun or an August Wilson play, and it’s usually during Black History Month.”

In a keynote address at Princeton August Wilson targeted the concept of “colorblind casting” as “an aberrant idea.” ”

He continued: “We want you to see us. We are black and beautiful. We have an honorable history in the world of men… We do not need colorblind casting; we need some theaters to develop our playwrights.”

Suzan Lori Parks in an interview regarding her being the first African American female in drama to win the Pulitizer Prize:

“African-Americans in drama, right. I think it opens a door, but I also think that it’s everyone’s responsibility to walk through a door. If one person opens a door or one person could be said to be the door opener or the doorman or the doorwoman, it’s your…everyone’s responsibility to walk through that door.”


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