When I was an undergrad, I worked as a literary intern for a Los Angeles theater company. The company’s mission was to produce work by Los Angeles writers. I was put in charge of selecting plays for a fall festival of new work. “Oh goodie!” I thought, “I can’t wait to meet these writers!” And I proceeded to select a handful of plays that I thought exhibited the most talent and promise. They were on varied subjects, three were written by men, two by women, one of the women was Latina, one of the men Japanese; all the rest were white.
When I sent an email to the artistic director with the playwright’s names and play synopsis, I received back an email exclaiming that my selection wasn’t diverse enough – why were there so many white men in the line up? – Along with a list of “diverse” playwrights to contact about putting in the festival; playwrights who I had previously heard of, but none of whom had submitted work to me.
I wrote back questioningly, “It looks like you have a quota in mind – are you asking me to fill these slots according to ethnicity?” Which elicited another bristling response “Los Angeles is a diverse community. It has always been our intent to reflect that on our stages. We have only once done an all white-cast play, and one of those characters was handicapped”
Needless to say, only one of the plays I had selected was for an all-white cast.
So I suggested that the artistic director’s intent be reflected in the company’s mission; maybe more diverse people would submit work and we would have a more colorful (and well written) pool of scripts to pull from in the future.
To say that the whole discussion was “awkward” would be an understatement.
Now… several things must be addressed if I am to be as objective as possible :
- I am white. It is possible that as such, on a subconscious level, my predilection is for scripts by/for/about similarly pale-skinned persons. I don’t think this is the case, as some of my favorite authors hail from different parts of the rainbow, but, nonetheless, it could very well be a factor for me in determining which plays I find exciting.
- I am a woman. As such, my tastes may very well be different than a man’s, or, as recent studies have shown, I might be more critical of women’s work than men’s… I certainly hope this isn’t the case, but it must be mentioned. Especially since, as I acknowledge in the following bullet point…
- I am a playwright. What does this have to do with anything? Perhaps nothing… or perhaps as a playwright, I have developed a certain style/taste and hold material to similar standards of my own work… perhaps I like best the work that I would like best to have written… I couldn’t tell you. Certainly I revel most in work that I look at with admiration – but is this admiration based on an internal, completely subjective scale? Am I secretly lusting after white-centric plays because those seem to be what I write?
I bring these things to the forefront of my discussion because I think it is important (if I am going to ask what I am about to ask) that I acknowledge what may be my own limitations as a script-reader. It is important to acknowledge that while I am a heterosexual, white, female playwright, the artistic director was a homosexual, *non-white (I don’t want you all guessing who I’m talking about now), male director, who had a completely different perspective than I .
So who was I to argue for these “White man” plays? Who was I to be reading for this company in the first place if our aesthetic was so off? And, as a woman, should I have been pushing them on out the door with the same verve as my AD?
But, more importantly; who were wither one of us to host a new play festival of work we had to go out and ask for, when we had a mountain of engaging submissions from Los Angeles writers before us… just because those submissions were from predominantly white playwrights. And was I supposed to include (what I considered to be) weaker material, simply because it was written by someone more “representational” of LA?
Was it my job to go out and ask for new material from established writers of color simply to make our festival better reflect (in the artistic director’s eyes) the Los Angeles community?
Right, wrong, or in-between, what wound up happening is what usually happens when an artistic director makes a request – we shuffled and asked, and put together a line-up much more in line with his vision and much further from the material I’d been reading the past 6 months… Meanwhile, I had to send “TBNT” letters to a handful of very qualified and talented writers, for no other reason than that they were too pale for us to produce.
Isn’t that a strange and odd turn of events?
(Tomorrow: Part 3, or, The Angry White Woman…)