We Are Proud to Present a Presentation asked the same question that Rebecca Stevens’ article poses: When/how can a person not of a particular race tell a story inherent to that race? It’s a question that we, as Americans, cannot answer and partially refuse to acknowledge mainly because of the racial past in this nation.
This mindset as artists in a community of individuals from so many backgrounds only hinders the art that American stages are able to produce. This community has to understand the magnitude that it holds by keeping white-stories, and mainly white-created stories as the “norm”, while stories of color are designated as “niche.” They are not niche stories; they are as potent, pointed, and powerful as “mainstream” stories.
For instance, in Boston, Company One (the company which put on We Are Proud to Present at ArtsEmerson) does shows that are distinctively not canonical, that are not from the white-straight-male privilege because there is so much representation of this demographic on the Boston stages in the present moment. The company hopes to expand the idea of what is and what is not “mainstream.”
It is not the job of white people to tell the story of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Latino, Native-Americans, immigrant, or any other division of race’s story. Sure there are similarities in histories, but the experience of the LGBT man fighting for civil rights is incomparable to the experience of an African-American man marching on Washington. It is impossible to know how somebody of a different race accesses a piece of art when one is not of that same race. It is just as impossible to understand the full impact of interpreting a piece, role, or choice differently when one is accessing it from a place of privilege.
Granted, what I have written here has not solved any of these issues. In fact, it might have only further cemented the uncomfortable nature of them as I mainly talked about racial appropriation rather than addressing it directly. This is a tightrope that Americans walk; we would rather debate, discuss, and argue about the issues rather than accessing and tackling them. There must be a way to foster these kinds of conversations less from a theoretical “what does this mean for the future of theatre” level and more on “what does this mean to the audience/performers/artists working on the show.”