by Bri Schwarz, Editor-in-Chief
You see: Shakespeare. Strindberg. Ibsen. Miller
I see: White. White. White. Male. White. White. White. Whitewhitewhitewhitewhite.
When I began my freshman year at DePaul, I was told these were the everymen of theatre. These were gods that I was not allowed to question because they originated the theatre we know today. Their stories were drilled into me as relatable to anyone, and if I didn’t relate to them, there was something wrong with me, not the writers.
I’m not saying that they don’t hold any merit. I’m saying that they are white men. White men who are speaking to the upper class and upper-middle class of their times. When we tell aspiring artists that these writers are the end-all-be-all of great theatre, we isolate audiences members who cannot identify with “white people problems”. (I’m looking at you, Willy Loman)
I hate reading these writers, and I hate seeing plays by these writers. But my professors and peers say,
“But what makes these plays beautiful is how universal they are!”
“These plays transcend race and gender!”
“They speak to the core of the human experience!”
The truth of the matter is, these plays were not written with universality in mind. These playwrights intended to write for an audience like themselves. They were not written with racial and gender equality in mind or in practice. They speak to a specific human experience, which is the white experience most of the time.
Today, we cannot only speak to a privileged audience. Our solutions to make these plays “universal” and “relevant” are ineffective. The prime example is by placing bodies of color onstage in these roles, but we ignore the fact that these stories were not written with their lived experiences in mind. Racial inequality has taken place as far back as Shakespeare’s late 1500’s to that of Miller’s mid-1900s.
Instead of stretching to make these white plays relevant to diverse performers and audiences, why can’t we start producing pieces made by and for these communities?
I’ve had the honor of working on Ricardo Gamboa and Ana Velasquez’s co-developed Meet Juan(ito) Doe as their stage manager for the past few weeks. This devised piece tells the narratives of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans in Chicago. The piece touches on their history, their present, and their erasure. The piece would be described by Gamboa as “Cirque Du Soleil in your grandmother’s living room,” as it is more than sixty percent physical theatre with monologues interspersed.
I am a half-white and half-Asian person. I do not identify with this piece, and I’m not supposed to. That is not wrong. What’s wrong is that this piece is one of the few of its kind making waves in the Chicago Theatre Scene. Yet Mexican American people, along with the other beautiful people of color in this city, are being presented in stories that have never been for them. Because shows like A View From The Bridge and Taming of the Shrew are what sell-out houses in Chicago.
In a review of Goodman Theatre’s La Havana Madrid, Chris Jones calls out the forgotten history that the play touches on, and how Lincoln Park is now among the most expensive and least diverse neighborhoods in the city. He fails to point out that large amounts of the audiences coming to see La Havana Madrid are from Lincoln Park and have contributed to the displacement of so many people.
Yes, I’m calling you out, Goodman and theatres like you! In The Goodman’s last publically made accessible report, it is stated that only 26% of your audiences are people of color. You are not calling in audiences with access to Meet Juan(ito) Doe into your spaces. Those interested in theatre on the South Side and Back of the Yards are not being welcomed into your spaces because your spaces have never been for them.
You can offer as many discounts as you want. People in marginalized communities are not going to make the trek and spend money to see stories written by, for, and about those who have colonized them.
What makes us unique are our differences, not our similarities. A theatre community that I would love to be a part of is one that presents all stories of origin, not just the stories of origin that have stood the test of time because some powerful white guy had an influence on powerful white people.
Let’s start replacing revivals and make room for more Meet Juan(ito) Does. Give us room for what it really means to be a diverse city. White audience members don’t always have to relate to it, they just have to be willing to listen.