Diversity Revisited

Well, after the heady rush that was the Tonys, I needed to take a shower: the cold dark shower of the reality that is diversity in the American theater.

Earlier this year AAPAC, an organization I very much admire, released a tremendously illuminating report with some shocking statistics. (Or, honestly, they weren’t that shocking if you’ve seen a play/breakdown in the last five years/history of American theater). A lot of great numbers there, but the one you really need to know is:

On New York City stages during the 2011–2012 season, African American actors were cast in 16% of all roles, Latino actors in 3%, Asian American actors in 3%, and other minorities comprised 1%. Caucasian actors filled 77% of all roles. Caucasians continue to be the only ethnicity to over-represent compared to their respective population size in New York City or the Tri-State area.

So there’s that.

Regarding the Tonys this year:

African American actors fared well with the awards, but Caucasian actors/writers/directors made up the vast majority of those nominated. And where were Asian and Latino/a actors (or directors or playwrights), or any other non-white population? In the chorus, singing their hearts out, but not nominated and not winning.

And what about the women? The women! A woman always wins best actress, doesn’t she? And though women took home two directing awards, they still remained among the minority nominated in directing categories, and certainly in playwriting (thank god for Nora).

Here’s a nifty infographic generated by Lee and Low Books concerning diversity gap in the Tony Awards (does not include 2013):


Hopefully this year skewed the numbers a bit, but we have many years to go before statistically these numbers can be offset.

There are a lot or reasons why the diversity of our world is not represented in our theater. It begins with our history, that “traditional” playwrighting/casting/etc excludes minorities (Though let’s think for a moment about the binary concepts “traditional” and “non traditional” and tell me if you don’t find them to be problematic). It continues with the funding and development of new work, what we chose to put on stage, and how we staff and cast it.

Here is a great article on the funding of arts projects and their bias towards shrinking white audiences, courtesy of the Huffington Post.

It is about how we conceive of revived works and how we are developing emerging work. It is about how we cast and what we foster and where we fund. It is a problem that producers, casting directors, directors, playwrights, agents, actors, and audiences all have to grab hold of and wrestle with and fight against.

But in what better community to fight this fight? On what better platform? We’re building imagined worlds onstage. Worlds that can be reflective of or better than our own. Worlds that can open our eyes and insist upon themselves.

I stand by my delight at the Tonys this year. I believe they could presage a hopeful moment for Broadway. But, as always, there is much farther to go.

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