In 2015 I was forced to see the state of our stages through altered eyes.
For my entire career I have enjoyed opportunities that I hadn't fully realized were limited. I grew up seeing Black people on television so frequently that representation did not appear to be lacking. As a child I watched Sesame Street and Electric Company, two extremely influential shows that featured people of color. I grew up with Sanford and Son, Good Times, What's Happenin', The Jeffersons, 227, Amen, Gimme a Break, Benson, Roc, Family Matters, and of course The Cosby Show, A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Living Single and In Living Color. There are many shows that I did not watch, but with this many shows starring Black people on my television daily, I can't imagine feeling like I didn't see myself represented.
Prior to college, all of my professional training came from predominantly Black professional, working artists, in Detroit. In fact, the only non-Black coach/director I had growing up was Rick Sperling, Founder of Mosaic Youth Theatre-it cannot be doubted that he had my best interest at heart. I was never taught that there would be obstacles I would have to destroy in order to succeed in acting as a Woman of Color. I was taught that opportunity and possibility were everywhere and that I needed to show up, be prepared and do the work.
Now... I continue to enjoy opportunities, but I am muddling through my newly gained understanding of the larger reality. Let me be clear: I'm not an idiot. Of course I have always been aware of the "be more Black," "you're Asian? Okay, be Chinese," and "hey Latino, you're a Mexican thug" types of problems rampant in our industry. These stories have been shared with me over time and in contexts that never prompted any action from me, beyond my nod of acknowledgment and maybe "dang, that's fucked up."
2015 was quite the trying year in theatre around the world. Some producers and directors have taken the message of Inclusion and decided that it means that the majority should be able to play other ethnicities under the guise of "colorblind casting." Apparently there are fictional stories with "historical accuracy" and every day there is a new article or blog post highlighting some outlandish experience. Without The Chicago Inclusion Project, I fear I may have continued to miss the magnitude of the problem.
When we began, my position was quite firmly on the side of the artist, wanting to push the idea that more options are available when you show up. Having directed and cast a few shows, sat in on auditions and been consulted for recommendations, I've been acutely aware of our absence in auditions when race or ethnicity was not specified. I've been shocked at the low attendance of people of color and wanted to highlight this as part of the problem. I wanted to be the voice that emphasized what I believe is a fundamental approach to the game: GET IN THE ROOM.
Gratefully, our work over the last year has shown me that it takes so much more than that. I still firmly believe you gotta make yourself known. However, I now better understand how the entities also have some responsibility in this. It baffles me that any producer or director working in the city of Chicago for any period of time can say they know no actors of color. I am stunned by the companies who are expressing interest in making changes but don't go see the shows that intentionally have diverse casts, or any productions by any Latino, Black or Asian theaters in the city. They want someone to come to them and give them a solution. Or bring them people. The countless audition postings that emphasize they are looking for all ethnicities and still hire all White casts, even when we do show up.
It's 2016. I have matured as an artist and am ready to tackle these issues. With TCIP I am ready to help show how talented people can tell the stories of people on stage, and that people means humans regardless of physical ability, gender identity, ethnicity or race. I am ready to read more plays. I am ready to seek out lesser known works by writers of color. I am ready to make noise. I am ready to encourage others to make noise.
Like I learned back in Detroit, I'm gonna show up, be prepared and do the work with TCIP that will change the norm. And the world. I'm ready.
Are you in?