We Are Here

by Constance Strickland

I will not lie. As a Black Woman and Black Theatre Artist, I’ve born witness to institutional theatre hindering Black storytelling in Los Angeles for years. I find access to new spaces limited or financially unavailable for Black Theatre Artists to develop new work. I’ve come to discover I’m often in the crossfire of hidden prejudices. As Black Theatre Artists we’ve experienced words thrust upon us such as angry, aggressive, and loud to silence our voices. Due to this, over the past few weeks, my feelings have gone from disconcerting too perturbed. I’ve had PTSD symptoms surface I didn’t know I carried within my body. 

I will not lie. I see White Theatre Artists advocate for Black Lives while never once advocating for Black Theatre Artists. I see posts linked to where and how you can support Black Lives while not advocating for Black People you actually see. I am constantly flooded with content from peers simultaneously discovering and posting quotes from Black Intellectuals and Leaders while ignoring conversations Black friends have with them weekly if not daily. I receive forwarding articles on how to support Black Theatre Artists while being a Black Theatre Artist. I see feeds filled with stands of solidarity when I have personally experienced these same figures and organizations dishonor Black agency. 

We’re existing in times where it’s a detriment to the Theatre to have colleagues, who are unaware of how they’ve become co-conspirators in age-old racism. Is the sudden influx of support for Black Theatre Artists a trend that will simply fade away and be unable to sustain itself, or are White led theatre organizations actually seeking ways to finally hear the eclectic voices of Black Theatre Artists that are developing work in the midst of our theatre community and offer real support? It causes you to wonder if they actually care to support the multitude of Black Theatre Artists right in the community.  

This call to action is necessary. It is an overdue embarrassment. This moment in time reveals how disconnected our theatre community is from Black Theatre Artists. We exist within the Los Angeles Theatre Community. For a long time, we’ve been here. Reaching out. Doing the work by any means necessary without real support. 

I will not lie. We’ve given power to these theatre “guardians”. We’ve allowed this white patriarchal system to seep into the roots of our ancient form of storytelling and taint its sanctity. We’ve given these “guardians” the key to control who goes through the doors. They decide who receives particular resources and opportunities. Now the roots are rotten and the branches are no longer able to hold themselves up. There is no doubt that the work we are seeing is not the full-scale gage of the voices nor talent residing within our Los Angeles Theatre Community, a vibrant theatre hub where stories are being created in tiny nooks throughout the city. A city where artists do the work every day, each year without fail, and without support.

We need you to Support Black Theatre Artists right here in Los Angeles. We are out here developing new theatre. We are trying to fund new plays. We are local Theatre Artists who need support. We are independent Theatre Artists residing here in Los Angeles. We are not supported by an academic or arts institution, we are not under fiscal sponsorship, and we are not funded via a non-profit umbrella. WE self–produce new works on a high level. UPLIFT US. 

I will not lie. As a Black Theatre Artist, I have reached out to White and Black academic and art institutions alike. I believed I would receive equal opportunities to present my work. To build a community in my field and grow as an artist in safe spaces. 

Over the years I have reached out and applied for my work to be shown at numerous theatres, galleries, museums, and other artistic institutions in Los Angeles. In response, I was once told that space was only reserved for artists who were alumni of Cal-Arts. Another space responded by quoting me a price that was simply too high for an independent artist to afford. At other times, my applications are simply ignored, and my emails left unanswered. What I find even more concerning is that when my work is presented or shown at these institutions it’s through the association of white artists where my black body and talent were presented and credited under their name. Yet, when I apply I am not given the same opportunities. 

I will not lie. Black Theatre Artists are not given the opportunity to be varied. Black Theatre Artists must be allowed, encouraged, and supported in making every type of work. Not only work that assists a “guardians” concept of what a Black Theatre Artist is and can be. For there is no limit to what one can manifest when they are not shackled and being marginalized. Black Theatre Artists are not widely included in our theatre community. We often are left with no choice but to fight from not getting stuck under the gaze of these white “guardians” who block the entryway to a wider audience. If you Support local Black and Brown Theatre Artists it raises the bar for our city. It raises the bar of the Theatre. 

We need affordable, safe spaces to develop new work. Spaces that are not just catered to academic alumni or well-supported artists –  Where can we go? What will we do? How will theatre as an art form progress in Los Angeles? 

White people, it would behoove you to ask yourself, how many times have you reached out to a Black Theatre Artist to say, “Hey there’s an opportunity I know about, here’s a contact, here’s some help?!”

I will not lie. It is not only white men, there too sit white women in positions of power. They sit quietly. They take no action to lean in and they rarely push open the door for a Black Women in Theatre. There are White women producing theatre, running theatre spaces, while also playing into the tokenism card, in which repeated Black Theatre Artists have access to varied spaces and funding without giving opportunities to new Black Theatre Artists. If we continue to allow these “guardians” to hold the key to theatrical spaces then we are not allowing our art to move forward. This stalls the new American Theatre from truly emerging itself. 

The Black Theatre Artist is Experimental. 

The Black Theatre Artist is Avant-Garde.

The Black Theatre Artist is Tradtional Theatre.

The Black Theatre Artist has a New Voice. 

The Black Theatre Artist has Many Faces.

The Black Theatre Artist is an Academic Artist.

The Black Theatre Artist is the Institutional Artist.

The Black Theatre Artist is not a Supported Artist. 

Historic Artist Opportunities - Massachusetts Cultural Council

“Born of a race whose inheritance has been outrage and wrong, most of my life

has been spent battling these wrongs. But I did not feel as keenly as others

that I had these rights in common with other women, which are now demanded.”

~Frances Ellen Watkins Harper | 1866

*A Note to BIPOC Artists: We need to build together. We need to merge our skills together. We need to not be the only person in the room if we don’t have to be. We need to answer emails from one another. We need to continue to reach out to one another. If we don’t look out for each other then who will? 

2 thoughts on “We Are Here

  1. 1000% agree with you, Constance! About EVERYTHING. Sooo much I could write. This piece–YOUR piece–is powerful, stirring (and those emotions stirred up include anger–good!), and most of all, TRUE. Blessings and aloha, Syn

Leave a Reply