Magazine article American Theatre

Editor's Note

Magazine article American Theatre

Editor's Note

Article excerpt

I WAS NOT IN THE AUDIENCE AT THE TCG CONFERENCE IN 1996 when one of America's greatest playwrights, August Wilson, walked to a podium on the McCarter Theatre Center stage in Princeton, N.J., and delivered the stirring, paradigm-shifting keynote speech "The Ground on Which I Stand." But I felt its seismic ripples in Los Angeles, where I ran the actors' trade paper Back Stage West, and I avidly followed the speech's dramatic aftermath, particularly Wilson's subsequent Town Hall debate with critic/director Robert Brustein, via the pages not only of this magazine but also in The New York Times, which put the Wilson/Brustein smackdown on its front page.

Perhaps in part because I worked for a performers' trade, like many at the time I fixated on the most notorious and arguable of Wilson's many points: his staunch opposition to "colorblind" casting, specifically the practice of casting African-American actors in traditionally white roles in canonical classics. Wilson saw this as being beneath the dignity of black performers, who had their own growing canon of plays by black writers to act in, ideally at black-run theatres where black talent was employed and black culture promulgated and preserved commensurate with its demonstrable quality, significance, and ambitions.

That last bit was more central--the notion that there should be more black-run theatres doing more plays by black authors, employing more talented people of color--than was the bit deploring so-called "colorblind" casting. I don't think I've ever met an actor of color who subscribes to the letter of Wilson's proscription, and not just for the practical reason of not foreclosing work opportunities but also because many actors of color fully and justly embrace the right to interpret European and American classics as the universal works they're purported to be. It's the lack of a reciprocity in that consideration that justly rankled Wilson, and should still give us pause: Do we think of and treat plays by authors of color as similarly universal, or are they considered merely "typical" of a certain cultural expression? …

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