Theatre department addresses racism

Desteny MaraghReporter

The Department of Theatre put out a statement titled “Our Commitment to Racial Equality” where they voiced their dedication to addressing the systemic racism.

The letter states “as a department, we are dedicating ourselves to strengthening our efforts to fight racism and anti-Blackness while engaging in open, honest, and equitable conversations with our community.”

Theater Department Chair Michael Skinner is working to reflect that mission in his program’s curriculum and performances.

Two years ago, they received a call to action from people of color in the theatre department who felt the program needed a revision to better its inclusivity.

Skinner’s response to the student’s call to action was “you’re absolutely right.”

He said he “embraced” their feelings and said, “how can we start to fix these things?” He also said the world of theater is typically controlled by white, cisgender men and has been that way since its inception. He spoke about how he had to first acknowledge the privilege before dismantling it.

“In our courses and productions in particular, it’s this Eurocentric white history, that was how I was taught,” said Skinner. “The question is what can we do to change it.”

He said this revision started two years ago, but the pandemic has given them more time to really focus and analyze the changes needed.

“By default, we had been teaching the white supremacist history, because that’s all we knew,” said Skinner. “Now we realize that’s not good enough, that’s not right,” said Skinner. “We are now starting to incorporate more works of people of color. We’re trying to do more shows that actually represent the student body.”

The statement put out by the department reads “in the United States the theatre industry has a long pervasive history of racist, non-inclusive, and inequitable practices and policies that suffuse every aspect of our profession.”

Theater major Ryleigh Rivas, a junior, said this revision was “definitely needed.”

They said they would like to see “more diversity in the program and people of color highlighted more on stage.”

Rivas is of Latin decent and said last year, there was a production centered around an African-American character, but out of the 15-member cast, only three identified as people of color.

Rivas said they are happy that “follow-through is actually happening, and change is occurring.”

According to the statement by the theatre department, their plan is to “renounce past industry practices of whitewashed casting and season selection as well as the lack of properly diverse representation in our curricula.”

“I’m not waiting, we need to put an ‘anti-racism in the art’s course in our curriculum. I would like to get this to be done by next fall,” said Skinner. “Last year, we didn’t have a single person of color working in our department, it’s important for our students to see that.”

The statement put out by the department included a list of action items that the department is looking to help put in motion.

Some actions are establishing new production protocols concerning scheduling, that will enhance a better work-life balance and promote inclusivity of our working student body and creating two scholarships for black, indigenous, and people of color.

The next production which displays this push of equality is “Sweat,” a play that will be virtually put on by the theater department.

“Sweat” was written by the first woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice, Lynn Nottage.

The department’s process for casting plays will be done with an “increased vigilance regarding color-consciousness so that university productions accurately reflect the broader student community,” according to the statement put out by the Theatre Department.

This is one of the steps being taken by the department in hopes of structuring a newer and more inclusive curriculum and overall atmosphere throughout the entire university.

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