Hal Scott/Lloyd Richards
Ambush, Benny Sato, Black Masks
Within one summer month, our field lost two accomplished African-American men of the theatre-Lloyd Richards and Hal Scott. Their personal achievements are distinguished and legion, their place in the pantheon of exceptionally gifted practitioner/teachers is secure. These two men have been, for me, especially inspirational because they were the first two people of color to have been artistic directors of LORT (League of Resident Theatres) theatres. Hal was the first at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park 1972-1974; Lloyd came next at the Yale Repertory Theatre 1979-1991.
I discovered what a LORT theatre was as a Brown University undergrad theatre major at the turn of the 1970s decade. As an African American who has consciously wanted to be an artistic director of a LORT theatre since that time, the trail Hal and Lloyd blazed gave me hope, during my maturation, that I, too, could do so.
Long have there been people of color who have been artistic leaders of theatres nationwide. Their talent, contributions to their communities, and service to the field have been and are important and valued. LORT theatres, however, are our field's gold standard of not-for-profit professional theatre institutions. They are most often the best financially endowed, resource-rich "flagship" theatre organizations in a region's cultural ecology. These theatrical jewels in their community's cultural crown are able to pay their staffs, artists and practitioners wages at levels unsurpassed by their colleague theatres and they typically achieve high levels of operational sophistication. Hal and Lloyd, by their example, had opened a door I dared to walk through. And I did.
Since Actors' Equity Association first offered LORT contracts in 1966, my research reveals that only eleven people of color have ever sat in a LORT artistic director's chair. The list includes Hal and Lloyd. The others in alphabetical order are: Walter Dallas (Freedom Theatre), Sheldon Epps (Pasadena Playhouse), Ricardo Khan (Crossroads Theatre), Kenny Leon (Alliance Theatre), Tazewell Thompson (Syracuse Stage), Douglas Turner Ward (Negro Ensemble Company), Debra L. Wicks (Meadow Brook Theatre), George C. Wolfe (The Public's Delacorte Theater), and myself (Theatre-Virginia). All are African American. None are Asian, Latino or Native American. Most took their positions at established theatre operations whose identities and financial community support had previously been largely Eurocentric.
Some of these tenures were long term; others were truncated by a host of dilemmas and issues. What has been unique among the experiences of eight of these leaders, whose presence broke color lines at established Eurocentric theatres, has been how their racial/cultural difference affected assumptions, expectations and program choices, triggered fallout in the way of racial baggage, fear and unspoken levels of discomfort, and broke new ground. …