This edition of Open Friday letter is something that I recognize myself as a problem but I fall victim to it myself. We always talk about black images in film, media, and music. But, what about theater support? This week a reader wants to know about theater and the black community.
I have a question or want to know why Black people and people as a whole don’t support the theater?
And the Academy Award goes to… At this moment in time, I find myself on the edge of my seat waiting to hear, if not both at least one of the names; Viola Davis or Octavia Spencer following that heart palpitating phrase. I also find myself scratching my head a bit. You see, I’ve watched the interviews with Spencer and Davis and I’ve seen the scrutiny over the characters they played in “The Help”. It seems that the general consensus is disdain that Black women are still playing maids in the 21st Century. I, however, wonder the validity of these judgmental remarks for you see, before Davis ever set foot on a film set, she was first an actor of the stage. She was portraying those rich roles , some written by the late, great August Wilson that contained depth and the flaws of the human spirit. As a student of the theatre, I find myself attending the productions of many different theatre companies, yet there is a huge deficit in the support from the Black , 40 and under crowd.
The audience for the Black Theatre is on life support and we are missing the voice of the younger generation. Why are we so quick to judge the images that we see portrayed on TV or film by Black actors yet we fail to support the more complicated, sometimes heroic and real characters that are presented on the stages of Black theatres, Black theatres built and established in spite of innumerable obstacles. If you already are a consistent supporter of the theatre, then I applaud you and yet encourage you to bring more people to the theatre . There is no greater joy as a performing artist than to see the reflection of you in the audience or hear the age old custom of ” Call and Response” in a “MMM..Hmm Girl”, or “You betta sing, boy! “However if you are not a constant patron of live theatre, then I ask ” Why not”? What will make a date to the theatre just as appealing as a comedy show ,movie night, or buying out the bar with your friends? In the meantime, go see a play, preferably one in which the characters represent you!
I encourage you to start with supporting the theatre in your area. If you’re in the St. Louis area or visiting , you can start at the St. Louis Black Repertory company, a company in it’s 35th season currently presenting talented Black artists in many of Shakespeare’s major roles. If you’re not in the area, check http://www.jacneed.com/African_American_Theatre.html to locate more theatres in your area.’
So I ask again why don’t we support black theater?
Frustrated Theater Supporter
Your question is a complex cultural dynamic but I will do my best to try and give you my opinion. I fully understand and have spoken about the need to provide more diverse images in film. I have (gasp) have defended Tyler Perry in saying it is not all his fault when it comes to film. And black culture as a whole being responsible for the images shown but, one thing I honestly neglected was the black theater. I mean one of favorite plays is August Wilson’s Fences and I can’t even remember the last time I saw it performed.
With all of that being said I will be the first one to admit that I have NOT support black theater as much as I should. I will say at the same token that I really haven’t support much theater period and that’s where I feel the issue lies. Society as a whole has turned away from the idea of theater. We have 300 TV stations and over 100 movies being released weekly. Then there is the issue of the arts not being pushed in public schools anymore. They are cutting art budgets daily to the extent that some students don’t know anything art as a whole let alone theater/drama. We are living in a society now that celebrates the lowest common denominator with easy access. Some people just want to have their entertainment to be mindless (see Basketball Wives, Housewives of Atlanta, etc. Let’s keep it real the sad thing is that theater is hurting period unless it is Broadway.
We have to remind ourselves that we have a consorted effort of keeping many Black traditions rich and live. Many traditions and parts of history haven’t been passed along for whatever reason across American society so why would it be any different in the Black community? But, to answer your question simply…many look at theater as ancient because they have so many other things to occupy their time. But, I do challenge myself and my readers to step outside their comfort zone and check out a play at their local theater.
*Playa Tip* Think about how much you can set yourself apart from other men in a woman’s mind by taking her to theater? And if she isn’t open to checking out a play. Is she a woman you would want to even deal with?
Write in with any question for Open Friday at firstname.lastname@example.org
What do you think? What is your opinion on the support of the black theater?
- Pariah: Not Just A Black Gay Love Story, It’s Real Life (rippdemup.com)
- Choosing between The Help or Faces at the Bottom of the Well: On Reproducing Racially-Easy Work or Constructing Courageously (racialicious.com)
- You Gave “The Help” a Chance…Why Not “Red Tails”? (ashy2classy.net)
- My 10 Thoughts on the SAG Awards (awesomelyluvvie.com)