Drury Lane does not have a casting problem.
Drury Lane has an institutionalized racism problem. As does Marriott. As does Paramount. As does just about every non-PoC centered theatrical institution in this city. To place the problem at the feet of casting is to blame the symptom rather than the cause.
I, truly, appreciate Kelsey McGrath’s review. It addressed the issue directly before our eyes and I’m glad that it has gained so much traction. But, I hope that we can dissect this issue at its root.
How many of our theatres have any People of Color (PoC) on full-time staff? How many of our theatres have any People of Color on staff in positions of authority? How many of our theatres have People of Color on staff in positions of authority who are well-versed in the current national drive towards equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI)? How many of our theatres have PoC in positions of authority, well-versed in EDI, who are not only unafraid but also encouraged to speak up? Name a progressive leader of color in the conversations surrounding EDI in Chicago with institutional authority. Can you even name a White one?
This is the root of our problem.
We can continue to bring in directors of color for single productions who push for new perspectives. We can continue to encourage that one White ally suggesting a “daring” new take on a classic that will no-longer erase large portions of our nation’s, and the world’s, population that is not White (cisgender, male, able-bodied…). We can continue to create avenues that make access to talent of color easier for institutionalized individuals. But, as long as these institutions continue to first and foremost value their comfort, progress will remain stagnant.
Proximity breeds empathy. Proximity breeds understanding. Proximity breeds awareness. Right now, most of our theatres value the comfort of the known over the depth of understanding achieved by being exposed to the unknown. As we question how these ideas seem to consistently evade our leadership we can not ignore the fact that the leadership has itself stayed consistent in one way: It is overwhelmingly White. That racial comfort, the knowledge that one won’t be labelled as racist, or insensitive, or ignorant by someone with the personal and educational pedigree to expose such realities, allows them to direct their focus elsewhere. Equity, diversity, and inclusion are not priorities, no matter what their mission statements may say.
Until our theatres open their eyes, and their pockets, to the idea that comfort in an unjust system is a privilege of oppression; until they can find the humility within themselves to allow People of Color, who have not been permitted their level of institutional access and, therefore, do not have their resumes, to regularly question their methods and intentions; until vocal, progressive People of Color are granted permanent, unconditional seats at the table we will continue to have problems with representation.
This is what institutional racism looks like. To call it anything else is to capitulate to the comfort of the exact people who need to hear it the most. Chicago, let’s get uncomfortable.
Photo by Brett Beiner