Statement read at a session titled “How We Move Forward” on Saturday, June 16th at the TCG Conference regarding the Friday, June 15th performance of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway at the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre (The MUNY). The transcript below was created in only a few hours by artistic leaders of color from across the country in response to the production. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, and wider inclusivity.
Video from TCG “How We Move Forward” Session (via Facebook)
Last night, Friday, June 15 at St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre, known as The MUNY, representatives of Theatres of Color nationwide demonstrated the power of collective resistance to systemic oppression against people of color. When those who benefit from those systems fail to acknowledge the ways in which those systems oppress others, it limits our ability to live up to the promises of who we say we are as a nation.
When the theatre industry allows instances of black face, brown face, red face, yellow face, crip face, disability drag, and heteronormativity, it sends the message that these types of representations are acceptable.
Let us be clear: they are not acceptable and will not be tolerated by communities of color and our allies.
We acknowledge that all American theater takes place on occupied Indigenous land — and that in this particular case, the performance takes place in a region from which all Indigenous peoples were violently and forcibly removed. Under those (or any) circumstances, the derisive use of Native American headdresses — ceremonial pieces with deep spiritual meaning for many tribal nations — is especially egregious.
After many years of advocacy and education, we see the need for continued action and transparency around theatre practices and performances that reinforce systemic white supremacy in our industry. Even if The MUNY’s 11,000 seat production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway had been cast, directed, or presented with a contemporary contextualization, the original form culturally appropriates and therefore is inherently racist and is painful and offensive with racial and ethnic stereotypes. We refuse to turn away or ignore and thereby be complicit with the actions and portrayals that wound our colleagues, friends, neighbors, and families in the name of “tradition.”
TCG was immediately reactive to our concerns and for that we are immensely grateful. However, the continued silence from our professional theatre community at large around these destructive narratives that mock marginalized people only ensure the continued oppression and economic, emotional, physical, and sexual violence against those who cannot access the agency afforded to the dominant culture. Additionally, inaction on these irresponsible production choices results in historically white theaters continuing to receive 55% of all federal arts funding. This allows these privileged few to have the power and access to shape the way race and ethnicity are portrayed on stage, further enabling the dehumanization of people of color, women, and the working class.
Theatre is the space for communication, and for intellectual, and emotional process. As artist and agitators, intellectuals and art makers, we are conveyors of the thoughtful, heartfelt, inquiry and action to which our nation aspires.
As representatives of Theatres of Color nationwide, we continue in the tradition of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, Standing Rock, Stonewall, #insteadofredface, #BlackLivesMatter, Beyond Orientalism, #MyYellowFaceStory, and #MeToo.
We voiced our dissent against the minstrelsy in The MUNY’s production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway last night. With members of the theater community nationwide, we stand in solidarity with the St. Louis theater community, and are here to support your efforts to address the systemic oppression reflected in The MUNY’s production. We support artists involved in the production, and seek to further a national conversation around these issues. We also encourage The MUNY to hold a public forum to address communities of color to hear our voices and experiences, and to mutually come to a way forward.
We charge the American theater community to engage in sometimes uncomfortable conversations which are often ignored by predominantly white institutions as too difficult to engage in, and dismissed as not relevant to their audiences. We are here to assert that this is a conversation that is essential both to our audiences and our shared humanity.
Additional names forthcoming
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