Why Black Theaters Matter
Reflecting on Amani Al-Khatahtbeh’s words on representation and visibility, the need for creative spaces for black women and women of color are imperative. Hollywood has been notorious in making people of color visible but not represented. The writers and those included in the creative process do not reflect the subject. Or even more criminal: taking people of color’s stories and characters and whitewashing them to fit westernized standards. This has been happened from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to A Mighty Heart.
Unfortunately, whitewashing doesn’t just exist in Hollywood, it bleeds through when it comes to theatre. Chicago has prided itself in being a melting pot when it comes to theatre, especially boasting its vibrant and diverse theatre community, which is true to an extent. However, PorchLight Theatre has been under fire since announcing its cast for In the Heights, a musical set in the predominantly Dominican community of Washington Heights at the edge of change. The problem is, its principal character, Usnavi, has been casted as Caucasian. In the Heights, the musical and the book was written by two self-identified Latinos. This unapologetically robs a Latino actor of a role. It’s interesting when it comes to finding people of color to play servants or bad guys, you can find actor/actresses of color all day long. But when it comes to the lead role, it suddenly becomes a difficult task to cast actor and actresses of color due to the quality pool.
This is why it’s important that we continue to maintain and support spaces created and occupied for people of color. Enter Black Theatres (and theatres that represent people of color). Short history lesson, on the heels of The Harlem Renaissance and under the Federal
Theatre Project, The Negro Theatre provided support for Black playwrights, directors, actors and technical artists. The Negro Theatre created geographical units throughout the country, New York being the most recognized. This type of support and The Negro Theatre Unit aided in the creation of The American Negro Theatre , whose notable alumni include Harry Belafonte, Ossie Davis, Ruby Davis, Sidney Poitier, and Alice Childress just to name a few. The American Negro Theatre produced 19 plays from 1940-1949 thus paving the way for other Black Theatres, such as Black National Theatre, the longest owned and operated theatre by a woman of color. These spaces were created for us to see authentic portrayals of our life experiences and allowed us the ability to control those portrayals by actually being a part of the creative process from directing, starring in, and writing about these portrayals. If you're in need of those representations or tire of seeing the same narratives, check out these theatres who are either producing a Black playwright/director, casting a Black lead, or is a Black theatre:
Pegasus Theatre Chicago Rutherford’s Travels adapted by David Barr II and Ilesa Duncan Director Ilesa Duncan Daughters of the Moon by Reginald Edmund Director Ilesa Duncan
American Blues Theatre Dutchman/Transit by Amiri Baraka/ Darren Canady Beauty’s Daughter by Dael Orlandersmith
Steppenwolf Theatre Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis starring Victor Almanzar, Elena Flores, Audrey Francis, Lily Mojekwu, and Eamonn Walker The Fundamentals starring Alana Arenas Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee
Teatro Vista- Latino Theatre Chicago The Wolf at the End of the Block by Ike Holter La Havana Madrid Directed by Cheryl Lynn Bruce
The Goodman Theatre Gloria by Brenden Jacob-Jenkins Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith The King of the Yees by Lauren Yee Lady in Denmark by Dael Orlandersmith
Remember, we have to keep these spaces alive. It becomes really dangerous when we decide that work created by and for people of color are not good enough unless it's been validated by non-marginalized individuals.
Rachel DuBose is Chicago-based playwright returning to the area by way of Atlanta, GA. After finishing her undergraduate career at Spelman College, Rachel went on to work with NinaHoliday Productions and BET. Some of her work, Eve Within and Alkie's Anonymous have received stage readings at Spelman with the latter being showcased at The Alliance Theatre during Spelman Salon. Most recently, Lonely Hearts participated in The Fade 2 Black Festival in Houston, TX. Rachel holds a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for the Screen and Stage from Northwestern University. Rachel is also a resident playwright at Mercy Street Theatre Company and a regular contributor for Black Girl Fly Magazine.