With the firing of Charles Isherwood from the New York Times and the subsequent hiring of Jesse Green to replace him, conversations surrounding diversity in theatre criticism have emerged across major theatrical publications and platforms. When The New York Times announced Isherwood departure and the subsequent open search for someone to fill his position, the implicit question amongst many in the theatre community was, is the Times going to hire another white guy?
And then they did.
And then in an interview with Rob Weinert-Kendt, editor of American Theatre Magazine, Green revealed that he didn’t even apply for the post.
In the American Theatre Magazine interview, Green recounts an initial conversation he had with Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times:
“And the first thing I said was, ‘Don’t you want someone who brings more diversity to the table?… I’m a trifecta of non-diversity: I’m a gay white Jew, and that’s almost the entry requirement to the theatre in New York.’ He said something quite interesting—and he should know—he said, ‘It’s wrong to try to solve all of an institution’s diversity problems in one hire.’ I have to believe that they wanted me for things that took priority. I wasn’t going to turn down the offer; I’m not a saint. But I share the critique that the theatre would be better served by more diversity.”
There’s ample amounts of writing on this hiring and the role of diversity in theatre criticism by people who, are frankly, much more qualified to write on the subject than I am. Instead, I want to use this opportunity to examine the responsibility of the individual artist operating in systems that benefit people who share their identities.
It’s abundantly clear that The New York Times can’t “solve” all it’s “diversity problems” in one hire, but with this hire they have certainly solved none of them. That notion is a horribly empty justification for not actively working towards equity. Green is undoubtedly a talented critic, but there are many talented critics who aren’t white men. These critics aren’t hard to find, considering some of them currently work as freelancers for the New York Times.
So Green accepted the job, but let’s entertain the theoretical that he hadn’t: would the Times have offered the position to a candidate with a more diverse perspective? What if they hadn’t? What duty does the privileged individual have in a situation where their own advancement shores up systems that perpetuate inequality? Is what he does with his platform more important than whether or not he accepted that position?
If I were in his position would I make the same choice?