I’m Black AND Queer. What will reopened theater look like? What will Broadway do about racism?

#Stageworthy News of the Week.

New York City is set to reopen today — partially — 100 days after the first New Yorker was discovered infected by the coronavirus. But most believe at least another 200 days will pass before Broadway theater resumes.

When will theaters reopen? What will reopened theater look like? Those are the questions with which many theater people have grappled since the March shut-down, including the COVID-19 Theatre Think-Tank (CTT).

“I’m quoting a doctor when I say, ‘We don’t make the timeline; the virus makes the timeline,’” publicist Matt Ross, one of CTT’s 25 members, told Helen Shaw.

When would epidemiologists be ready to return to the theater? The NY Times asked 511 of them.
This summer = three percent
3 to 12 mos. = 32 percent
a year or more = 64 percent
Never again: = one percent

“Our industry presents some very specific challenges in terms of physical intimacy, and I don’t just mean kissing onstage; I mean the proximity of backstage and dressing rooms and the way we share props,” director Rachel Chavkin, another one of the 25, said. “The public-health folks have really underscored that it’s also about audience anxiety. “

IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a labor union) is developing a Stagecraft Safety Committee Recovery Plan, which reportedly will include “constant daily temperature checks” and a COVID Officer “to monitor the stages to make sure people abiding by the guidelines and practicing safe measures.”

A suggestion of what New York theater will look like comes from Germany, with plans for socially distanced theater, and the Czech Republic, where one company has created drive-in live theater.


But in the two weeks since the Memorial Day killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, other, more urgent questions have overtaken the theater community. At first, the question seemed to be: What can theater do to express solidarity with the protesters?  Theaters — on Broadway and Off-Broadway — have issued statements.

Broadway shows such as “Ain’t Too Proud,” with an all-black cast, were among the most creative in their statements.

Some opened their lobbies (and restrooms) to protesters who have been out on the streets daily . Others postponed the online shows they had scheduled.

The question soon turned to: What can theater do about its own racism?

Accusations burst forth, some of them specific and personal, such as those by Griffin Matthews, who co-wrote and starred in the musical “Invisible Thread” (originally titled Witness Uganda), who let loose about the racist treatment he received during the production of that show at Second Stage.

There were responses, such as a statement from Diane Paulus, the director of “Invisible Thread” at whom much of Matthews’ accusations were aimed (although not by name):
“I am profoundly sorry for the pain I caused Griffin and any other person involved in our process. I am learning. With every new project and every new process, I re-commit myself to engaging in deeper self-reflection, to creating braver spaces for more collaborative art-making, and to listening to feedback to help me be a better artist, director, and citizen. We live in a racist world, and no one is immune to it, myself included. To transform this world, we need first to acknowledge the role we play in it. This letter is part of that process.
“I also realize this process is not happening fast enough. Our entire industry, especially those in positions of power, needs to examine our practices and make changes, including at my own institution, the A.R.T. Accountability is paramount, for myself and for all of us in our field.”

And some accountability has started:

Second City owner Andrew Alexander to exit after accusations of institutionalized racism leveled at theater

Next steps?

Broadway for Black Lives Matter Again will help the “Broadway community to heal, listen, and hold itself accountable to its history of white supremacy while moving towards becoming an anti-racist and equitable space.”

Anti-Racism Resources put together by Classical Theatre of Harlem

What Broadway looks like from the outside

The protesters across America are like those fighting in the Broadway musical Les Miserables, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn told those at Mass on Sunday

I’m Black AND I’m Queer

A 16-minute video by Tony winner Billy Porter that includes this comment starting at around 5:00
“As a black queer man in America, my basic human rights have been up for legislation every single day that I have had breath in my body from all sides and by that I mean that the black community’s relationship with the LGBTQ + community is appalling at best and eerily similar to that of white supremacists versus black folks. Hear me black folk and hear me well, I’m calling you out
right here and right now; you cannot expect our demands of equality to be met with any real legislative policy and change when y’all turn around and inflict the same kind of hate and oppression on us.”

What’s Coming Up Online

Check out June 2020 calendar of openings

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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