There is a fundamental disconnect between the future of the theater field and the way it is being discussed currently. The industry has only recently taken up arms to address problems of exclusion as it pertains to women and people of color on stage (it would be naïve to not attribute some of this awareness to the extreme financial and artistic success of Hamilton, a show that is unapologetically not white). Efforts such as The List by The Kilroys are a step forward in the inclusion of women. Audiences are demanding accountability for theaters producing exclusively white works. The battle cries of the silenced are now difficult to ignore. Still, we are approaching the issue in fragments, and because of this we are still operating under a white hegemony.
Due to current industry structure, we as people of color require recognition, programming, and support by producers and organizations that are overwhelmingly white. This discrepancy has undeniable repercussions on our art. We are asked to make art in a market that is rooted in a Eurocentric history that does not allow for expressions outside of its conventions. As such, our narratives are still being filtered through the storytelling conventions of whiteness. In trying to be seen, are we compromising our own histories and rituals?
This issue is further fueled by the dearth of critics of color. In the rare instances where we are able to produce without compromising ourselves, we are critiqued by those who are still deeply imbedded in white societal norms. We are judged by those who have very little understanding of our narrative practices. When the ritual of a piece is built on, say, an Afrocentric tradition, it runs the risk of getting a bad review. In the system under which we work, we are yet again looking for the approval of a white majority to validate (read: bolster our financial and artistic success) us.
In order to allow the full breadth of humanity onto the stage, we need to do more than simply present and feature the work of artists of color. We must give voices of color a platform from which to tell their own stories, in their own voices. We have to allow for criticism of work by an array of opinions to allow for all approaches to exist in homology. To further Audre Lorde’s claim, not only do we need to recognize that “the master’s house [will] not be dismantled by the master’s tools,” but we must also stop looking to gain boarding in the house entirely and instead build a new one—one whose door is equally open to everyone and whose foundation is made stronger by the diversity of material.