By Daniel Thomas, CGS Musician
One of the core strengths of most performing artists is a knack for near-shameless self-promotion. Thus, my social media feed is clogged with mostly actors, but also directors, musicians, and designers posting – not just when they have a show opening or running, but about the first rehearsal (“first day of school,” they call it), the announcement that they got hired for a project, or even when they simply audition for something (regardless if they get the gig or not). And like any good Insta-Twitter-Booker, the hashtags are copious: #actorslife #workingactor #blessed etc., etc., etc. As a producer and sometimes artist, I participate in these posts myself, albeit not without some reluctance.
Recently, someone posted a picture of a cast for an upcoming local production of a musical, taking a break at rehearsal. It was less promotion, more casual – just a group of people relaxing, bonding. And it was this photo, surrounded by carefully curated posts of “come see meeeeee in my shooooowww,” that created a small firestorm of controversy in the theatre community: in 2019, in the Bay Area, the entire cast was Caucasian.
More and more, theatre producers have been struggling with this topic, and in many ways, it is a reflection of a national conversation: as the population continues to diversify, how do you ensure that diversity is reflected in both your artists and your audiences? There’s a lot to unpack there: until the last 20 years or so, musical theatre had been mainly created by white men of privilege for an audience that largely reflected their worldview; thus, much of the work now considered “iconic” or “classic” didn’t speak to more diverse artists or audiences, and a vicious circle ensured that is only now truly beginning to be broken.
One of the show’s producers echoed a sentiment that I’ve heard before: they cast based on who shows up to audition – if only white people show up and/or are the best people for the roles, what are they supposed to do? (To be fair, this company has a solid record on diversity apart from this particular production.) It was a defensive stance that was not met kindly. Ultimately, the thread settled into a respectful and thoughtful discussion about what can be done moving forward. How can producers and directors be agents of change – to reach out, to embrace, to be active partners in making art accessible – and relevant – to all, rather than just opening the doors and hoping people come in? How can we do better?
I write all of this not to kvetch about my job, but I find it to be a useful parallel for the church today. As many in our congregation read the book “Dear Church,” the conversation is had about diversity and inclusiveness, and the struggle for equality and social justice in the ELCA and beyond. The call in that book is to not just open the doors, but for those of us inside those doors to walk outside into the world and be an active participant in God’s covenant – it is not enough for us to proclaim, welcome, and serve the same 100 people each Sunday. The modern church, much like musical theatre, is largely a construct of white men of privilege. Many millions of people, inside and outside of the church, have been both actively and passively marginalized by that construct. And while CGS can point to many successes in breaking that cycle, there is still a long way to go before all God’s children can truly feel like they are, in fact, all God’s children. How can we do better?
Christ the Good Shepherd
Various editorials, articles, and other items of interest.