Seret Scott – Director/Actor/Playwright (2003)
As I travel to regional theatres around the country I find a less welcoming atmosphere in more and more places, from both the artistic and admin staffs. In one theatre I’d never worked in before I wondered why they even called me, everyone from the top down was openly hostile. I believe these attitudes are a sign of the times more so than a particular theatre’s environment. The World is a politically and artistically hostile place toward everyone these days. It used to be that being in The Arts buffered some of the lack of vision, or lack of compassion that is so apparent these days, but artists don’t like to think of themselves as enlightened or compassionate anymore. They seem to be business people who happen to be in the Arts.
I find that the selection of work (plays) to be produced is more limited than it used to be. Theatres will produce a new play by a known writer but seldom attempt a new play by a new writer. I don’t know which came first, the audience not embracing brand new writers/work, or theatres (by selection) not embracing anyone who hasn’t developed a track record.
I am a big supporter of regional ethnically-specific theatres for several reasons: there are about five black playwrights who are being produced over and over. Their work is quite good and almost always a box office success for the theatre; however, it will be the single black show of the season and perhaps the single black show for several years. Black actors, designers, playwrights won’t work again for awhile. With an ethnically-specific space for these artists there may be a chance of five more plays being produced in a year, giving artists a chance to work with many people, in many styles. Since federal funding now goes to the local large ‘flagship’ theatre of any area if they are ‘inclusive’, there is no incentive to do more than the minimum choice of ‘inclusive’ work to meet government standards. In fact, as one General Manager said to me at my directing interview after I inquired about what I was being considered for in their upcoming season, “Oh, we don’t have to hire you as a director for us to qualify for federal funding, we only have to interview you. This is your interview.” Hispanics, Asians and blacks now compete for the one ethnic spot at many theatres. Not so much because they need that validation, but because at white theatres the funding sources are in place and the productions are likely to be more fully realized than at smaller, less financially-able spaces. But everybody’s hurting financially these days so I expect to see a steep drop-off in anything that isn’t mainstream work or revivals.
Money is a huge issue for all theatres. I suppose it’s the reason we don’t see many relationship plays, or plays where people actually communicate with each other anymore: there is the danger that without lots of ‘action’ the audience won’t be entertained.
As a black actress, I’m aware that I’d be unemployed 95% of the time if all I did was theatre, but film and TV are just as difficult in terms of roles available and the work is for a shorter span of time. As a black playwright, I write with a political awareness that is decidedly unpopular and uncommercial. As a black director, I’m open to it all.
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