In America’s 2019 cultural landscape, black playwrights often get overlooked by both the black and white community. Plays are just simply not as accessible for young black Americans as they are for affluent white Americans. The money that black teenagers could spend on going to a theater production is often left for more commonly accepted storytelling mediums, like film and music. When it comes to seeing theater on Broadway, the theater industry often relies on celebrities and nontraditional casting to target Black audiences.
In the Huffington Post, Tamika Sayles wrote an article tilted Black Audiences Should Feel Included Rather than Targeted: What is the Theater Industry Doing to Reach Them? In the article, Sayles notes that despite African Americans are reluctant to go to the theatre, shows that have nontraditional casting does exceptionally well. According to TheGrio.com:
“People of color in attendance make up a smaller portion of the box office, with 76 percent of tickets being sold to whites. But last year, despite the down economy, Broadway posted record revenue numbers. And some who keep an eye on Broadway have said the increased number of diverse offerings is one reason for that.”
But the theater industry’s tactics for including black audiences don’t always include Black playwrights. Original, successful plays by black playwrights are on the rise and are often overlooked. However, the New York Times has recently profiled four rising Black playwrights that are worth looking at, that don’t rely on nontraditional casting and could help raise African American participation in the theater industry. Below are the playwrights:
Jackie Sibblies Drury, 37, is the author of “Fairview,” a comedy-turned-confrontation that challenges the white gaze through which black art is often filtered.
“Provocation in and of itself, as an endpoint, seems like an immature and male impulse. Just jabbing someone doesn’t feel particularly productive. But trying to surprise or engage or affect people to think or reconsider or engage intellectually or emotionally in a way that they might not otherwise — that seems like a great reason to have people come to see a play.”- Drury
Jeremy O. Harris, 29, wrote “Slave Play,” examining fraught race relations by following interracial couples through “antebellum sexual performance therapy.”
“Part of my discomfort with this sort of notion is the idea that the thoughts that we are presenting to the world are so utterly and dangerously new that they deserve comment. They only feel new if you have ignored black Twitter for like the last decade, you know what I mean?”- Harris
Antoinette Nwandu, 39, is the author of “Pass Over,” about two black men trapped on a stretch of pavement because they are worried about running afoul of the police.
“I’m a bit of a pragmatist — I’m going to have a conversation with the people who show up. There were white people who responded to “Pass Over” and said this is great, and white people who were very offended, and there were black people who said this is great, and black people who were offended. At the end of the day, I’m writing for the people who want to go on the journey I’m making, and I’m not writing with one race in mind.”-Nwandu
Jordan E. Cooper, 24, wrote “Ain’t No Mo’, ” about a collective exodus of African-Americans from the United States after the promise of the Obama era is followed by the Trump administration.
“The Public sends an email to audience members saying “What did you think of the show?” and some white audience members write back and they’re like “I just feel like I didn’t have a way in.” And the thing is, how many times do we have to sit through shows that we don’t necessarily have a way in on? We don’t see anybody who looks like us, and we don’t recognize these stories, and we don’t necessarily always feel welcome, but we still do the work to understand it. And I feel like some of the white audience members and even some critics don’t always do the work.”-Cooper
Written by Ryan Nickerson
Feature Image Credit: Jeremy Daniel