The G.L.Horton file - "On race and theater"

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"The G.L.Horton file"

note: entire contents copyright 1997 by G.L.Horton

Black and White and read all over...

Date: Thu, 27 Feb 1997 16:30:44 -0500 (EST)

Dear Larry,

Your musings set me musing...
Unless I misread your notes, and missed the "Point", unlike Brustein or Wilson you don't have a "position" on this "Issue" -- except, perhaps, that drama --- dramatization --- is an important tool for examining human action and interaction, and that "the critic"'s (or better yet, a varied corps of critics with differing POV's) honest account of the process is an important part of the feedback loop.
My feeling is that (in spite of the glut of entertainment) the tool is underused, and more theatre would be a Good Thing.
But what I mean here is theatre as spiritual/ethical R&D --- theatre as search for Truth.
This is what we all "need", and what must be subsidized somehow.

Theatre as pure sensation, roller-coaster ride; and theatre that tells us what we want to hear or what, can often be supported by the market.
People who hope to profit from shaping public opinion will also underwrite theatre, whether as art, therapy, religion, politics, etc.
The urge to discover truths about themselves and others, and to fashion narratives that that express those truths -- and sometimes, even better, to create narratives that show how those truths fit together into a larger, still truthful system of interlocking metaphors -- is near enough to instinctual in humans so that people will probably keep trying to produce real, serious, important drama whether conditions are favorable enough for them to succeed in doing so or not.

I'm an old-fashioned integrationist.
I would like to live in a society where most people were of "mixed" heritage, and individuals saw maintaining, celebrating and identifying with one or another pert of their heritage as a matter of free will -- much as Americans have assumed in theory that any individual was free to be a Methodist like her mother, or a Presbyterian like her father; or convert to her husband's brand of Christianity upon marriage; or join an ashram after taking an Adult Ed class. We take this sort of change for granted, mostly, although for much of history and in many parts of the world today apostascsy is a capital offense. And most people disapprove of those who "desert" their heritage to gain material advantage, or in response to a threat. This is the kind of disapproval August Wilson invokes when he preaches against black actors doing "white" roles. He writes plays for black actors (mostly for black male actors: one thing Wilson and Brustein have in common is that their ideal theatres are by, for, and about mostly men) Who can blame him for wanting all those actors vying to perform for him?

I'd like a theater where we dissect racism rather than practice it
I'd like a theatre where we could not make assumptions about the heritage of the actors by what they appear to be in the performance. Why not a much greater reliance on wigs and make-up, on the "artifice" of the art? It might clarify what kind of truth it is that we are really after. We can create credible Klingons and Narns, why not an "Othello" where a rainbow cast presents the outward appearance of an Elizabethan version of Venice?
I know mine is an extreme opinion-- Beverly Creasey, for instance, is a strong proponent of non-traditional casting, but thinks it should only go one way and is upset when a suburban community theatre casts "whites" in ethnic roles. She regards attempts to imitate the "stereotypical" physical appearance of a minority with abhorance. But although I devoutely wish there were no all-white theatres suburban or elsewhere, I think putting ourselves in other people's shoes, and seeing ourselves through other people's eyes, are two of the most useful spiritual exercises there are.

I played a couple of minor roles for Spruil's New African Company way back when. I would have liked to have done more. I loved the old People's Theatre -- they did my "T-Show"! -- and I love to be in the audience at Wheelock Family Theatre. I'd be pleased to have the opportunity to work with such an integrated theatre.
I was delighted beyond measure when Carmel O'Reilly cast me in "Bold Girls", and she and her Sugan countrywomen instructed me in the accent and appearance --- not of a generalized "Irishness", but of that particular urban acre, that generation and gender and economic class and family history --- serene in the belief that in addition to mimicing her outward parts I should be able to discover Nora's inner life as well. They made me feel welcome as an artist among artists, bless them.

We don't seem to have much institutional support for "mixing".
New Theatre has reached out, and set up "nontraditional" events. But when I attended one, I discovered it was an opportunity for artists of color to show each other their work, not a place for people who wanted to do their work in an integrated environment to meet each other. If there is such a place, I haven't heard about it.
I certainly sympathize with an out-group's desire to work, at least part of the time, in supportive privacy. The best discussions I've participated in on the Net have been on a list that, while it doesn't ban male writers, has attracted so few that fear of male disapproval isn't a censoring factor. Wonderful, wonderful stuff gets said.

And however August Wilson chooses to work, that's the inassailable point: wonderful stuff gets said.

G.L.Horton -- Newton, MA, USA

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