Theatre Matters

Contemplations on the dramatic arts from a national perspective

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Steven Oxman has contributed to such publications as the Los Angeles Times, American Theatre, Stagebill, and, most frequently, Variety, for which he has written over 300 television and theatre reviews.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Role Theatre Plays

Playbill has an article about a panel discussion with big-name playwrights on the topic of race and politics in the theatre. Not the most interesting piece in the world, but it stirs my mind on the subject.

As a minority art form -- in the sense that in our society it is a tiny dramatic form compared to the popularity of film and television -- theatre has taken on an essential role in providing a place for minority artists. Since so much of it is subsidized, often with public money, it has taken its responsibility seriously to serve the under-served (I suppose here that I really mean under-served actors as opposed to audiences).

But there's another reason. Unlike the great mass of mass entertainment, theatre is local. And urban. Looking for an outlet, the talented African American and Latino and now Arab and Persian artists can't really look to Hollywood for a whole lot. There just aren't anywhere near the jobs available as there are for white actors. And, boy, are there some talented folks in these communities. Look at any cast for an August Wilson play, and how easily these plays are re-cast, and you get a sense of the depth of the African American acting pool. (The NY Times had an article about this group of actors -- you can read it here.)

Many of these actors have turned to playwriting when they weren't finding roles they wanted to play. Just as an aside, Eugene Lee, in a supporting role on Broadway in "Gem of the Ocean," has written at least one good play (I worked with him on his first television movie script, too, although it didn't get produced).

Point, while everyone may simply consider this diversity "political correctness," it really is true that theatre can and must give voice to those who are not given voice by mass media. It's an area where theatre CAN do better than film.