The Great Whiter-Than-Ever-Way — a poor player , The Great Whiter-Than-Ever-Way — AAPEX

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Great Whiter-Than-Ever-Way

The following discussion is from A Poor Player… Meditations on the Art of Theatre.

It was posted January 3rd, 2012 by poorplayer and filed in General Theatre, Musings. By January 7th, there were 91 Comments.

Dunkirk NY – According to The Broadway League 2010-11 Demographic Report, the Great White Way is whiter than ever. And then some. To save you the trouble of clicking the link, here are the bullet points from the Broadway League website:
From the Executive Summary In the 2010-2011 season, approximately 62% of all Broadway tickets were purchased by tourists. Sixty-five percent of the audiences were female. The average age of the Broadway theatregoer was 44 years, older than in the past few seasons. Eighty-three percent of all tickets were purchased by Caucasian theatregoers. Broadway theatregoers were a very well-educated group. Of theatregoers over 25 years old, 78% had completed college and 39% had earned a graduate degree. The average Broadway theatregoer reported attending 5 shows in the previous 12 months. Playgoers tended to be more frequent theatregoers than musical attendees. The typical straight play attendee saw eight shows in the past year; the musical attendee, five. Fourty-four percent of respondents said they bought their tickets online. Bullet about the female audience deleted. (sic) In general, advertisements were not reported to have been influential in making the purchasing decision. The average Broadway theatregoer reported attending 5 shows in the previous 12 months. The group of devoted fans who attended 15 or more performances comprised only 6% of the audience, but accounted for 33% of all tickets (4.1 million admissions).
Given all the demographics we know about theatre in the US and westernized countries today, I think it’s safe to make the following conclusion: Theatre is primarily for white people, as both audience members and practitioners.
When I first saw these statistics, I got those old familiar feelings of guilt and anguish, that it’s a “bad thing” that theatre isn’t shared or enjoyed by large numbers of non-whites. I would like it to be – I would like everyone to like and enjoy theatre. I would like more white people to enjoy theatre (those numbers, although large, represent only a small fraction of the population as a whole, maybe 2% according to the NEA research on arts participation). I would like to see audiences grow, witness theatre houses full with a diverse crowd of theatre-goers. Clearly, it ain’t happening.
But then the question came to me – is it so bad to admit that theatre is for white people? White western culture has, for better or worse, risen to a dominant position in this multicultural, heterogeneous society that has evolved in this country, and because of that fact alone it is subject to criticism and the push of upward mobility from cultural forces below (at times rightfully so). But perhaps it’s just worth the few seconds it takes to stop and consider the idea that white people, like any other culture or race, deserve to have a culture and forms of art that they enjoy and that is reflective of their values and history. Theatre, as it has evolved from the Greeks, seems to be one of those cultural art forms that people of white European descent have enjoyed for a long time (and the majority of them enjoyed it until the advent of mass media). And that, in and of itself, is OK. Isn’t it?

This is not to say that other races or ethnic groups do not have theatre or do not enjoy it. But the particular form of the scripted written work as interpreted by actors in a linear story-telling fashion seems to be one that has interested western Caucasians for a long time, and apparently continues to do so for a certain demographic slice of white people as a whole.

Now am I not arguing that non-whites do not enjoy theatre and participate in it. Of course they do. But statistically speaking, on the whole, non-whites simply do not appear interested in the art form as defined above. No other race or ethnic group charts in double digit percentages either as audience members or practitioners of “legit” theatre. The question that really needs to be asked to probe these numbers more carefully is whether or not these low numbers are the result of institutional discrimination, or simply general disinterest in the art form. I suspect many people will want to believe the former, but the numbers seem to indicate that perhaps the latter is closer to reality. One aspect of this question that needs serious consideration is the economic inequality question, but even that may reveal that whites are more willing to sacrifice economic hardship to see and do theatre.

Perhaps an example will serve to illustrate the point. During the Negro League era of baseball, a sport created by Caucasians, the institution of Major League Baseball clearly discriminated against African-American players. But it was also pretty clear that African-Americans were interested in baseball – enough to form and maintain their own league as a viable business on a national level, and populate it with first-class talent.

By comparison, African-American theatre companies today are few and far between, and the non-white plays that make it to professional theatres in New York and regionally are mostly viewed by the same white patrons who like the art form. I found three different listings of African-American theatres, and none listed more that 100 theatres nationwide. Of the 20 theatres listed on the Theatre Alliance of Buffalo website, 2 (10%) are primarily African-American (Buffalo is 38.6% African-American); one exists in name only, and the other produces rarely. Nor have I seen any indication that African-Americans are dominating the audiences at The Motherfucker with the Hat, nor are Asian-Americans the majority audiences at Chinglish. All this is not by way of criticism, mind you – if the interest isn’t there, then there is nothing really to criticize. To each their own.

The thing about having a passion for something like theatre is that you really, really want to share that passion. It is difficult to accept that statistically many people out there simply don’t share your passion for or interest in theatre. They have other things they enjoy doing more. When we talk about audience development, isn’t that what we are trying to do? Get people who are fundamentally uninterested in our passion to share it with us? Statistically that doesn’t seem to be working so well, particularly among the young. Perhaps the time has come to say that theatre is what it is – an art form for older, well-off, educated white people. Nobody else is truly interested in it at the moment, because the numbers do not indicate any support for the art form beyond this small slice of the American demographic profile.

Discussions like these make people feel uneasy. Heck, I feel uneasy writing about it. I’m not even sure I am doing the right thing writing about it. But statistics, while not necessarily speaking anything one would label “the truth,” do carry a certain reality about them. For theatre, the current reality is that the art form is an art form for and about white people. This reality does not mean that crossover artists don’t exist; August Wilson is one of the most revered playwrights in modern theatre. And, just as many white people enjoy an art form like rap/hip-hop, which has its roots in African-American culture (as does jazz), many non-whites enjoy the art form of theatre. But I don’t think we should spend a lot of time wailing and gnashing our teeth anymore and feeling guilty over the constant barrage of data that indicates that theatre is a culturally Caucasian art form. We should just admit the obvious, say it’s OK, and move on – unless we can absolutely ascertain that these numbers are a result of institution discrimination. What is important is that theatre remain an open “big tent” art form, open and welcoming to all comers of whatever creed or race or nationality. -twl

91 Responses to “The Great Whiter-Than-Ever Way”

John Geoffrion says:
January 4, 2012 at 10:47 am

What you don’t discuss (or the stats don’t show) is the income level of the audience. What’s more significant in one’s willingness/ability to attend Broadway or regional theatre, one’s race or one’s affluence? Do affluent non-whites go to the theatre in proportionate numbers as affluent whites? Would the racial demographics of the audience change if the tickets were significantly cheaper?

Nat Mcintyre says:
January 6, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I really believe this isn’t as simple as income disparity. It is an issue of exposure, which gets less and less as schools cut more and more great art programs, like some of those listed below. If kids are only exposed to mainstream advertising that they find on television, they will almost always choose a pop act over an artistic experience (although, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive, more on that some other time). But if we are in their schools, having them partake in vibrant theatre and experience it on their terms as much as ours, these statistics, even on Broadway, will most certainly adjust.

Although, people are correct that when you go to smaller theatres there seems to be more diversity in audience and artist. Just saying… That’s here the correction starts.
I will say, however, that when I go to an Off-broadway play the audience (and often the actors) seems to be much more diverse. I suppose that, too, is a conversation for another day.

Fernando E. Prudhomme says:
January 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm

excellent oint

John Geoffrion says:
January 4, 2012 at 11:44 am

Actually you *do* address the issue of income inequality, my apologies. I hold that income equality is the predominant factor in the discussion. It’s more of a class issue than a racial one.

poorplayer says:
January 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Hello John,
Thanks for your comments. I know I only touched briefly on the income equality issue, and I do agree income equality plays a role. There is no data on this as far as I know. I’d love to find some and address the issue further.

Sevan K Greene says:
January 6, 2012 at 11:24 am

What kind of study and date do you need other than looking at the absurd ticket prices? We’ve started to treat theatre like some kind of elitist activity that can only be enjoyed by the 1%, who are statistically white. Theatre used to be for the people, for all people, regardless of class and race. Do you REALLY think anyone wants to or can afford paying more than $100 for an evening of theatre (that is often piss poor and mediocre nowadays) when they have bills to pay and food to put on the table? Believe me, Latinos, African Americans, Arabs, and all others WANT to entertained, but not at the cost of their livelihood. Let’s try reforming HOW we get audiences into theatres and the economic hurdle we make them jump before they can enjoy something that might very well move them and mean something to them. Get producers to be interested in projects that aren’t hackneyed adaptations of movies or weak excuses for jukebox musicals. Let’s actually support a theatre of change, which is what used to be about. And, hell, even if it’s just for entertainment, make it a damn good show you want to put up there that isn’t driven by celebrities who can’t hold their own on the boards. As for chitlin’ circuits – I agree with Dominique. Their numbers FAR outweigh anything Broadway would every accomplish.

MrBlifil says:
January 6, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Um…you’re kidding with that one right? There is no data on income inequality as it relates to Broadway? Average orchestra seat prices on Broadway are well over $100. Per person. An evening of theatre and dinner for two people now likely costs over $300, more if you want to sit down at a place with tablecloths. While I admit the above “data” is anecdotal, based on passing by several Broadway houses this past week and noticing the box office figures, it is nevertheless roughly accurate.
Blacks earn less than whites on average. This data is well known. It is not a major advance in heuristic science to connect the fact that Broadway prices, even at the half-price window, exclude large swaths of the minority population of the city, the country, the world. And if you’ll allow me to introduce a personal opinion, I would submit that no thinking feeling person could ever doubt that there’s anything good about such an outcome.

Fernando E. Prudhomme says:
January 7, 2012 at 3:38 pm

you go!

Aaron Andersen says:
January 5, 2012 at 10:48 am

First, I’d like to state the obvious. If we want to know why people of color don’t come to see Broadway theater or other theater in large numbers, we should ask them or look for what they’ve already said about this before we just assume it has something to do with interest in the art as a “form.”
Second, and maybe this is not so obvious, the thing about any sort of institutional discrimination is that you can’t ever “absolutely ascertain” its existence to the satisfaction of people who have power within that institution. Institutions, by their nature, perpetuate a culture or set of practices and routines, and always portray that culture as the default. So it’s highly unlikely that an insider in an institution will be able to see whether those routines, defaults and cultural norms are just and fair, or instead unjustly discriminatory. Once again, we need to look for outside perspectives to begin to understand if these institutions are inclusive or discriminatory.
Once again, we can’t answer these questions from within the insular bubble of white theater practitioners and audiences.

RVCBard says:
January 6, 2012 at 7:05 am

If we want to know why people of color don’t come to see Broadway theater or other theater in large numbers, we should ask them or look for what they’ve already said about this before we just assume it has something to do with interest in the art as a “form.”
That makes way too much sense. Of course that’s not gonna happen!

Fernando E. Prudhomme says:
January 7, 2012 at 3:47 pm

it is very difficult for people of color to even COMPETE on a fair scale when applying for funding for theatrical projects. due to lack of economics, the “form” the Black theatre takes is usually a revolutionary one.
how can we do “legit” theatre with “form” when the economics is not there. it is designed for us to FAIL.
It also seems that the great white way is also sending a powerful message. And that message is, POOR PEOPLE OR THE UNDERPRIVILEDGE DON’T DESERVE CULTURAL EXPOSURE OR GROOMING-AND THAT’S DEEP!
But more so, it is actually casting judgment that such populations have no VALUE or anything worthwhile to contribute to our cultural society-AND THAT’S ALSO DEEP!

Ron Russell says:
January 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

Ron Russell from Epic in NYC here. I am at work right now, “wailing and gnashing my teeth” over the very facts you cite, and am a little too busy to answer the gauntlet you’ve apparently unknowingly thrown down here, but I will thoroughly this evening. The quick answer to your “admission” (“threat” perhaps a better word?) is that WE LIVE IN AMERICA, not Norway. We live in a country where over 36% of the people do not identify as white. So if we are going to make theatre that MATTERS in AMERICA, we’ll have to admit that the fault lies in ourselves, not in our audiences. More later…

Sam Tresler says:
January 5, 2012 at 11:10 am

I think you are drawing a HUGE conclusion from a very poor data set, at the same time throwing up your hands and saying, “can’t we just accept it already” as if people really have been “wailing and gnashing their teeth”. They haven’t. If *anyone* was truly ‘feeling guilty’ about this issue, I think it’d be the center of, oh, say, a relevant play or musical, as opposed to a line item on a Broadway demographics data release.
The study you cite is about Broadway, as if that were the only theater out there. Yes, Broadway is made by white people with excess money, for white people with disposable income. I knew that without the report.
The issue for me is the narrow version of what ‘theater’ is. I actually, have no issues with this article if you just did a search and replace ‘theater’ for ‘The current Broadway shows’.
Ultimately, I think what you are saying makes sense, for the microcosm that is the Broadway show. But the conclusion should be more like: “Broadway shows are a caucasion cultural thing currently”. I’m pretty sure you could find analogs in cultural black and asian and hispanic theater types and areas.
Finally, take care that correlation does not equal causation, “44% bout their tickets online” From this can we assume 56% of theater goers are techno-phobic? That is to say your assumption is that because of this data – theater must be a white cultural thing, as opposed to asking, “Is theater a white cultural thing?” and doing research or studies to discover if it is.
Have a nice day!

A concerned theatre goer says:
January 5, 2012 at 11:32 am

He’s jumping to conclusions with this:
Given all the demographics we know about theatre in the US and westernized countries today, I think it’s safe to make the following conclusion: Theatre is primarily for white people, as both audience members and practitioners.
The conclusion regarding race that could be drawn from that data set would better be stated by – Primarily white people attend theatre. The rest is not supported by the information he quotes. Sure – more white than black people work in theatre, but who’s to say that means theatre is for one group and not another. …
Okay, I just read the next couple of paragraphs. Seriously?
White western culture has, for better or worse, risen to a dominant position in this multicultural, heterogeneous society that has evolved in this country, and because of that fact alone it is subject to criticism and the push of upward mobility from cultural forces below (at times rightfully so). But perhaps it’s just worth the few seconds it takes to stop and consider the idea that white people, like any other culture or race, deserve to have a culture and forms of art that they enjoy and that is reflective of their values and history. Theatre, as it has evolved from the Greeks, seems to be one of those cultural art forms that people of white European descent have enjoyed for a long time (and the majority of them enjoyed it until the advent of mass media). And that, in and of itself, is OK. Isn’t it?
I can’t…I…I don’t even have words for this. First off – “White western culture has…risen to a dominant position in this multicultural, heterogeneous society…” is a oxymoronic statement. Either it’s a heterogeneous society and multi-culti or it’s a culture dominated by one influence. Pick one, dude. Second – that statement is written in a passive voice, implying that “White western culture” has risen of it’s own accord, without accounting for the forces of history or economics. Seriously dude? Read a history book. And don’t even get me started on the influence of African influences in Rock, the Blues and therefore pop music. I mean honestly.
white people, like any other culture or race, deserve to have a culture and forms of art that they enjoy and that is reflective of their values and history.
Who says they don’t? And by the way – all “white people” are the same? Really? Tell that to the St Patrick’s Day parade or mention that down in Little Italy. (Also – is he only talking about WASPs? Cause, if not, then he may want to pop into a synagogue – pick one any one – and tell the folks there that their culture is the same as the Irish bloke’s down the block.)….
I can’t finish reading this article. It isn’t worth my time.

Jesse Cameron says:
January 5, 2012 at 11:35 am

your hypothesis that theater is only for white people because the deomgraphics say that educated white people are the only ones attending broadway theater is a MAJOR jump in conculsions to say the very least. Also the argument that theater is primarily a white art form shows a fairly intense narrow point of view on your part.

johnny tango says:
January 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

How can you expect people to have an interest in the art form when thousands of non-white Americans (Latinos, African-Americans, et al) will never be exposed to arts/theatre in their lives? This is especially more alarming when arts education continues to decline in our schools Also, you mention that the art form is about and for whites. That provides a clue of perhaps the lack of interest by non-whites. Where are their stories? Who is writing them for the stage? New generations of audience members, who will not be white, will require new perspectives with their stories, experiences and cultural heritage represented on the stage.

99 Seats says:
January 5, 2012 at 11:47 am

Tom…Oof. I’m trying to find the right place to begin that isn’t coming from a place of anger. It’s hard but I’m going to try.
First off, you are only discussing Broadway theatre, which is an incredibly small subset of theatre in this country. Incredibly small subset that often only serves up one kind of theatre for one kind of audience. You simply can not extrapolate from Broadway to talk about the entire art of making theatre. Most every city in this country has at least one significant African-American theatre (not to mention theatres for other people of color), many of them thriving. Several cities, such as Chicago or L.A. have more than one. Black theatres are indeed struggling, but they are present and some of them have incredibly long histories.
You also can NOT in any way extrapolate from, again, a small subset of theatre, to the entire notion of theatre. African-Americans and other people of color have a long, storied, deep history of theatre-making in this country, going back to days of minstrelry and even further back. To simply say that because there isn’t a large African-American audience for Broadway, then African-Americans are not interested in theatre is ludicrous on its face. Not to mention offensive.
You mention discrimination in passing, but don’t stop to consider the effects of discrimination on theatre. You buy into a logical trap: white people have been encouraged to create theatre for each other, therefore they’re the only ones capable of it. The truth is obviously more complicated than that. If you can make room for the effects of discrimination on the development of baseball, you can make room for that effect on theatre.
Tom…I just don’t know what else to say here. Of course, you have every right to ask these questions. But, as Aaron intimates, the answers are right in front of your face, plain to see. You just have to do the work to seek them out.

Fernando E. Prudhomme says:
January 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm


Elisa Christina says:
January 5, 2012 at 12:05 pm

As an African American woman and budding playwright, I think that income inequality and institutional bias are the reasons why it appears that affluent whites enjoy the theatre more than their affluent counterparts within minority communities.
It is very difficult to find those within minority communities that have the disposable income to attend and/or invest in the theatre. Also, you will find that very few if any performing arts venues are owned or built by minorities. And very few regional theatres are helmed by minority Artistic Directors. Furthermore, there are very few minority producers. It is the simple adage that he who has the gold makes the rules! They choose the stories that make it to the stage and very few of those appeal to minority audiences.
Also, Tyler Perry’s rise to fame and power first through the theatre is an example of the flaw in some of your assertions. His plays and films cater to primarily African American audiences and African Americans turn out in droves for anything he produces, whether on stage or the movies.

Keith Josef Adkins says:
January 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm

White people deserve to have art forms that reflect their values and history? Wait. Are you serious? This is a joke, right? Satire? How old are you? I know white people who would find this ridiculous and insulting. Broadway and even Off-Broadway (like any other institution) are spearheaded by white people. Seriously? You didn’t know this? White institutions give the greenlight for who and what is produced (and seen by audiences) in this country. Everything is about the point of view, the white perspective, the white taste/distaste, comfort level, intelligence quotient, and so on. The notion that what people deserve art that reflects their values and history is absurd. The reason why Broadway is white is because it doesn’t want it any other way. Note to blogger of this absurd post: there are other people on the planet whose points of views are just as valid and whose experiences, oh my gosh, are interconnected with yours. Other people have helped shape your value system and history. Just a thought.

Huh? says:
January 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I’m somewhat baffled by this one. Theater by white people SHOULDN’T reflect their values and history? How could it not?
Have you worked in theater in New York? Artistic directors are among the most liberal people in the world. They’re dying for minority playwrights to present, and minority audiences for their theaters. If these plays existed, they would be being produced.

Keith Josef Adkins says:
January 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Yes, I’ve worked in theater in New York City. I’ve been commissioned by a few of the Off-Broadway theaters. I also have ongoing relationships with some of these theaters.
My point is that whiteness can’t not exist in a bubble. There a other values, histories and experiences that have shaped this white value system and history. There are too many white theater makers who seem to ignore the relevancy or urgency of these other narratives and human experiences that, by the way, again, help shape and inform your white value system.
The challenge? Imagine whiteness that doesn’t exist in a bubble where only its point of view is deemed the most important.
As far as plays by minorities, well… have you worked in New York City theater? There are hundreds of “minority” playwrights and hundreds of plays written by them. I’m not sure what circles you frequent, but these people and their vital creativity exists. Unfortunately, many white audiences (and artistic directors) are only interested in the stories that are steeped in pathology and/or poverty. There’s a diversity within the minority experience that’s often ignored.
I suggest you read Todd London’s Outrageous Fortune to get a better (studied) idea about why writers of color are not produced as often as white writers. It’s disturbing that you suggest it’s because the plays don’t exist. My friend, you have to open your eyes and SEE US to know we’re there.

Huh? says:
January 7, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Thanks for your response. While I find the tone of your argument to be a little disrespectful of a peer (you seem to make assumptions about my education, etc) I appreciate you clarifying your position, and some of your points resonate with me.
It has been my experience that there is a tremendous amount of affirmative action here for young minority and woman playwrights. I’m not going to argue that it’s good or bad, but I think it’s undeniably true. Just read the submission requirements for various development programs.
At the end of the day there’s a saying where I trained that there’s never been a truly great show written that went unproduced. ADs and commercial producers are hungry for great material. We’d probably all be better served focusing on perfecting our craft and staying out of debates like these. Best of luck in your art!

Keith Josef Adkins says:
January 9, 2012 at 6:56 am

Disrespectful? Are you serious? This, coming from someone who says it’s okay for theater to reflect white history and values and who says there are no produceable plays by playwrights of color. In truth, I find the tone of your statements to be steeped in ignorance about an entire community of hard-working, educated, talented theater practitioners. Assumptions? Mr “Huh”, you entire response is plagued with assumptions and misguidance.
I’m not sure where you trained, but that saying is shaped by value judgments that are informed by a group of people who refuse to see value, relevancy, (or visibility) in anything other than their own history and experience.
So you repeat your mantra that ADs and producers are hungry for great material. “Great” is relative. I would say ADs and producers are hungry for material that will support their (often limited) point of view of the world and also fill the seats.
I actually think we’re better served by addressing divisive and destructive notions that support a system where theater should unapologetically support a white value system and it’s fragile friend, white history.
It’s never too late to remove the blinders and dive, head-first, into reality. You may want to avoid anonymity as well.
Keith Josef Adkins
Former cultural blogger for
Artistic Director of The New Black Fest

Genesee Spridco says:
January 5, 2012 at 4:03 pm

I would like to disagree with your assessment as the data you are basing it from is purely from Broadway and does not reflect the wide world of storefront, ensemble theatre, devised works, fringe festivals, regional theatre, and more that are part of the “art” and the “form” of which you so broadly generalized. I proudly invite you to take a look into the diverse art of Chicago when you get a chance.
Our most recent adaptation of Othello’s Furies featured an all African-American cast and our audiences most certainly don’t reflect your statistics.
But thank you for stoking a fire to continue to change the face of theatre from the money machine of the ‘Great White Way’.

regi says:
January 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm

first, let me commend you for your frank delineation of the issues as you see it. and i agree with aaron, above, that more input from those “non-whites” would greatly enhance the discussion.
i also found myself with many open questions based on your essay: how does the theater of tyler perry (for instance) figure in this (ie, extremely popular roadshows of religious-tinged, lowbrow (to my eye!) comedy/melodramas that have almost exclusively african american audiences)? you speak of “linear dramas” that have the cornerstone of western theater, but other cultures often engage narrative in very different ways: does that have a bearing on the interest of “non-white” audiences? much attention is given to the relative (or non-) affluence of the audience, but what about the affluence (or lack thereof) of funders, backers, sponsors, producers, etc.? and, if theater is “an art form for older, well-off, educated white people,” are tv and movies the artforms for the rest of us? one more: classics aside, might we also acknowledge that movies and tv do realism much better than the theater?
which brings up a personal note: i’m a former actor and an african american. i used to LOVE going to the theater, but my ardor has cooled to somewhere around new york on a january afternoon. frankly, i’d rather see a movie or a good tv show (the latter of which i regard as minute for minute, dollar for dollar, as far and away a better bet than theater or movies).
again, thanks for the essay.

concerned in the Midwest says:
January 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm

“Perhaps the time has come to say that theatre is what it is – an art form for older, well-off, educated white people. Nobody else is truly interested in it at the moment, because the numbers do not indicate any support for the art form beyond this small slice of the American demographic profile.”
If this is “legit” theatre’s long-range plan, then someone please grab a defibrillator.

Mo says:
January 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm

“Now am I not arguing that non-whites do not enjoy theatre and participate in it. Of course they do. But statistically speaking, on the whole, non-whites simply do not appear interested in the art form as defined above.”
It seems you are confusing interest with access. Said differently, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. I had access to books through libraries and bookstores and as such had the opportunity to become an avid reader. I had access to movie theaters and was able to develop a of love film. I had access to music through the radio, television, church and the odd talent show which conspired to write a soundtrack for my life.
We didn’t have much theatre, though. There we no playhouses in any of the neighborhood’s I grew up in. The Goodman, the Steppenwolf and rest were (are) all up on the North Side and that might as well have been on the other side of the moon. I never developed any appreciation for theatre because it has never been relevant to me. By that token, let me report that we didn’t have ice rinks, either, so I don’t think it’s surprising that African Americans don’t play much of a role in the sport of hockey as players or fans.
I disagree with your conclusion that “Theatre is primarily for white people, as both audience members and practitioners.” I believe a more honest conclusion to draw is that white people have believed for a very long time that theatre is primarily for white people, as both audience members and practitioners and, after decades of limiting the access of others to the form, they may finally be getting their wish.

Vinaigrette Girl says:
January 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm

The only thing these statistics say is that Broadway attracts more white people. Here’s a tip, sunshine: Broadway isn’t “theatre”, it’s a hugely self-limiting and limited market. Such a shame you’re supporting so many stereotypes, including the one about Arts graduates understanding nothing about the nature and interpretation of statistical data.

Erin says:
January 5, 2012 at 6:10 pm

You’re a teacher, Tom? You? Do you teach your students that theatre is for white folks, primarily? Do you teach them that Broadway is the standard of “legit” theatre (by the way what’s illegitimate theatre)? Oh Tom where to begin?–I know, first a little theatre history (oh god they don’t let you teach that do they?)
Yes traditionally western theatre is seen as steaming from the Ancient Greek theatre, which is in itself a ritual. See, that’s the thing about theatre western or otherwise, it steams, intrinsically, from ritual, and rituals, Tom, exist cross culturally. Go ahead look into it. I’ll wait…
Did you find any cultures without rituals? No, you didn’t and that’s why we see the ritual we call theatre cross culturally as well. This is well known, or so I thought. At least this is what I learned at the SUNY school I graduated from. I also read it in a theatre history book I read dating from the 1920′s. You don’t look like you predate that book, so this can’t be news to you, a professor, I pray. In any case let’s not delude ourselves into saying that the art form of theatre is primarily and historically enjoyed by white people. Based on theatre history and just general knowledge of anthropology, that’s not true.
Now secondly let’s address the difference between an art form and a genre of said art form. You use the example of jazz and hip hop as being art forms that African-American seem to be more found of. Tom, those are genres of the art form of music. Music like theatre exists cross culturally as well. Again take a look if need be. They are actually forms of music that white people seem to have a fondness for, like say pop or commercial music for example.
Alright now that we’ve got that all cleared up let’s reexamine your claim. You use Broadway statistics to make assumptions about theatre but really Broadway is kind of a genre of theatre, something a kin to commercial music, let’s call it commercial theatre. So basically your claim is that commercial theatre is primarily for old well off white people. Fair enough.
I think the real thing to take away from all this is what can we do to make sure not all theatre is commercial theatre which only serves a very specific set of people? Or we could even tackle the real bear and ask what can we do to make commercial theatre accessible to the rest of us?

Jerry Gerber says:
January 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm

I would like to see the entire sample of this research. I don’t mean part of it, but all of it.
It’s shameful that this is passing as a legitimate news story and legitimate research..
And by the way, I’m white. And one of that small group who is a responsible for 33% of ticket sales.

Ron Russell says:
January 5, 2012 at 11:16 pm

Tom! I wanted to thank you for your recent post “The Great Whiter-Than-Ever Way,” which is now being commonly referred to as the “Is it so bad to admit that theatre is for white people?” post. It’s a brilliant expose of the banal, but still incredibly insidious, dangerous, modern-day racism that lies beneath the innocent-looking façade of your average friendly, innocuous, white university professor chairing a third-rate theatre department in the middle of nowhere. I’m blown away by the courage it must have taken to reveal not only your native disdain for all cultures, races, and concepts besides your own, but also your incredible intellectual barren-ness – what some would even call thunderous stupidity! And to think – you’re a college professor! You work with impressionable young minds EVERY DAY! It’s just incredibly brave to reveal that you’re living your life half-asleep – something that could, in fact, SHOULD, cost you your job! Bravo, sir.
I only have one quibble with your post. When you use the word “admit” in what has become the de facto title of your post, I think you may have overstepped your bounds, even within the huge leeway you give yourself. You see, an “admission” is generally a revelation of a hidden fact – now, that fact can of course be your personal opinion, as in “I admit that I feel like black people are beneath me culturally” – but the fact you purport to reveal is that the theatre is for white people.
This, unfortunately, is not a fact. Between my first reading of your post this morning and this evening as I write this, I have journeyed by train up to the North Bronx, one of our nation’s poorest Congressional Districts, and worked with a group of 18 student writers, all non-white, on a project called Shakespeare Remix. These writers, part of an overall group of 60 high school students in the afterschool project, analyzed a scene from ROMEO AND JULIET with me, and then applied their learnings to their own adaptation of the play that will later be re-integrated with the original text and performed in a professional venue for hundreds of members of their community, many of whom have never seen a professional theatre production, but who, nonetheless, if history is any guide, will be on their feet at the end of every show, weeping and cheering for the power of theatre to bring the voices of their youth into the civic forum. None of them are white.
My theatre, Epic Theatre Ensemble, co-founded their small school within a larger school that, ten years ago, before our partnership, had an average 4-year graduation rate of under 10%. Yes, you read that correctly. I do not use to jest. With our help, among many other factors, this school – not a charter school, which I just KNOW you’re thinking – now has a graduation rate over 85%. None of them are white. Why? Because theatre has a JOB in this world, sir. A job you do not seem to understand. It is not an entertainment. It is an incredibly powerful tool for social change. For awakening, particularly in young people, a thirst for rigor, and self-expression, and courage, the courage of speaking with truth and clarity in front of an audience who heretofore knew not your potential. And when this kind of drink is given to the thirsty, they become vigorous. And, I warn you, dangerous, to some of the things you seem to hold sacred about what you call “culture.”
Because these young people’s adaptation of ROMEO AND JULIET is not about Crips and Bloods, as you might assume. No. It’s about a wealthy Jewish family in southern Germany in 1938, after Kristallnacht, who use their influence to move into a comparatively low profile working-class neighborhood, where their daughter (“Juliet”) falls in love with their neighbor’s son (“Romeo”), whose family is slowly drifting into active National Socialism. The students are using rigorous research and text analysis, combined with their native earnestness, empathy, thoughtfulness, and insightfulness (who knew that non-white people had these qualities, right?) to sculpt a truly original vision of theatre that will be impactful on their community. They have not only embraced the “dominant culture,” as you call it, they are so bold, as young Americans, to think it is their own to use, re-vision, abuse, do what they will. You question if they are “interested in” the form of theatre? Trust me, given opportunity and access, they will wrest that form from the grips of lowly thinkers like you and me, and make it remember and fulfill it’s true purpose as a potent tool in our nation’s endless quest for equity and justice.
So your conclusion that theatre is for white people is just not borne out by the facts I have experienced. This afternoon. One person. At one school. Through one theatre. In one city. For one hour. In the vast diversity we call America. Who knows how many other theatre professionals today, with your ignorance ringing in their ears, have had similar experiences that reveal you to be singularly foolish?
Listen, Tom. Let me make something clear. I am white. And you don’t stand for me. In fact, I think our native relationship is as enemies. Don’t ever presume to speak for me. Don’t ever imply that my voice, as a white person, is aligned with your own. What you wrote does not make me “uneasy.” That’s the word people who are assured of their status because of the racism that pervades our every institution use when they write dangerous shit. What you wrote was a violent affront to everything I do, every day, and everything I stand for; not to mention the many other theatre-makers, and audience members, who actually are NOT white, who your post attacks. Or the millions of non-white students who use theatre every day to build better futures for themselves and their communities. What you wrote enrages me, and I here disavow you and your words. You, and they, are no part of me.

Thomas Garvey says:
January 5, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Don’t let the haters get you down, Tom! Your final points probably should have been phrased as questions, not statements, but you may be right, and these issues are certainly worth keeping an open mind about. I certainly don’t see how you’re insisting that we should abandon outreach efforts, or try to eradicate multicultural theatre. You’re just sighing and allowing yourself to admit that there may be underlying cultural issues here that no amount of hand-wringing or social programming can change.
At any rate, I don’t see much in these comments that seriously undermines your claims. The income issue, for instance, which many of these people have cited, is clearly complicated (if not overturned) by the fact that pop concerts and sporting events are all expensive propositions, too. The same inconvenient facts do a number on the class issue as well.
What you’ve actually done to unsettle all these folks, of course, is that you’ve questioned the basis of their crusading self-images. For that they can never forgive you, and that’s the source of all the hate-speech. But trust me, as much as these hens make cluck – and odd as it may sound, they LIVE for these kinds of opportunities – come a year from now, the numbers won’t have budged all that much.

Aaron Andersen says:
January 8, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Wow, Thomas Garvey is on your side. If I were you, I’d be worried.

Gary Anderson says:
January 5, 2012 at 11:54 pm

“Theatre is what it is – an art form for older, well-off, educated white people. Nobody else is truly interested in it at the moment, because the numbers do not indicate any support for the art form beyond this small slice of the American demographic profile.” What I find interesting about this blog post and the conclusions that it draws about the “real ethnic identity of theater patrons” is how the author uses Broadway as the barometer of all American theater. Maybe its the cost of going to a Broadway show, the subject matter of the play. or the patron’s proximity to New York that keeps many minority members from going more often. But even if you gave him that much, he excludes evidence that theater is enjoyed by people of all kinds, all over the world. Moreover, his conclusion that American Theatre audiences are Caucasian ignores the fact that many of those “Caucasians” are actually Jewish. Maybe the author needs to do a bit more research that extends beyond a simple Google search and examination of a few incomplete listings of Black Theater. This is lazy writing.

Ron Russell says:
January 6, 2012 at 12:18 am

Thomas, can I ask you a simple question, from a self-affirmed “crusader” – if you are a theatre-maker, what have you ever done professionally that has made a difference in a single life beyond your own? Please email me your response at, or post here. I would love to hear it – it will help contextualize your comment to know where you stand ethically when you do your work, whatever it may be.

Robert Silverman says:
January 6, 2012 at 12:28 am

This is some of the dumbest tripe I’ve read online in ages. Well, done. You know Tom, in countries across the planet (some where there are very, very few white people at all) the theater is an art form at the center of their lives. Ever been to Japan? Didn’t think so.
Anyhoo, if you could manage to get your head out of your ass for more than a millisecond, take a look around next time before you decide to put your smug, self-satisfied “observations” out into the e-world.
In closing, in the words of my people, you’re a schmuck.

Huh? says:
January 6, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Pot, meet kettle. Well-argued Mr. Silverman. Name calling and narrow-mindedness really advances the conversation.

H.B. Ward says:
January 6, 2012 at 12:50 am

According to the 2010 census, single-race White people make up over 72% of the U.S. population. So the 83% white ticket-buyer statistic doesn’t mean much, especially after taking more tangible factors like income levels into account. Broadway ticket sales pretty much reflect exactly the racial make-up of the U.S. population with considerable disposable income as a whole. If anything, the statistics suggest the opposite of what the author says: non-white people spend a higher percentage of their collective disposable income on Broadway show tickets than whites do.
I’m white and find the entire post ridiculous and foolish. The author seems to have been looking for an excuse to express some kind of “white pride” and mistakenly thought he found one. White pride amounts to simple bigotry against people of color. Nothing more or less.

Anthony Cuevas says:
January 6, 2012 at 1:36 am

Look Tom You Assume Theatre is for white people based on statistics and in your opinion facts but I’m a latino 19 year old kid who discovered theatre as a career due to Ron Russell and His Epic Theatre group that I’ve Been Apart of for my 4 years of high school and I did plays and adaptations such as Macbeth and Othello Where I played The Roles Of Macbeth And Barbantio also I’ve done their summer program in my sophmore through senior year of high school and now I’m going To CUNY College Of Staten Island In late January To further pursue my career as a Theatre Artist so I guess with This Following statement Mr Laughlin I just disproved your statistics and assumption that theatre is just for white people.

Dominique Morisseau says:
January 6, 2012 at 2:05 am

Some food for thought from someone on the “outside” perspective:
- Tyler Perry is not the only kind of theater that Black audiences will pay Broadway money for. There is a whole entity that you evidently know nothing about. Look into Black Broadway and the urban theater circuit, and educate yourself. The numbers these tours do could kill some of your Broadway shows on a good night.
- Many Black and Latino and Asian and Indian mothers read their children bedtime stories just as many White mothers did. Everyone loves a good ol’ fashioned linear story, sir…even if the settings are different.
- Most theaters are puzzled on how to approach “audience development”. They haven’t figured out quite how to crack the code (ie- reach the audiences of color). The answer isn’t because these audiences aren’t interested in theater. In fact, many people of color come from cultural traditions ROOTED in theater. Theater is in their blood. Again, educate yourself. Start with the Performance traditions of West African, Yoruba culture. Then spread it out across the Latin and Afro-Caribbean diaspora. Knock yourself out.
- This is the code cracker. Why aren’t audiences of color overwhelming your Broadway houses? It’s simple. No one invests in something that doesn’t invest in them. How can you ask a people to come to you if you aren’t ever willing to go to them? You drop a random flier on my Brooklyn stoop and expect me to come to see your random play? I’ve never seen you in my community, but you want me to all of a sudden LEAVE my community, come all the way out to YOUR community, spend my disposable income and then I’m not even going to see anything from my community reflected on that stage? Who’s idea of marketing is that? Who’s the clueless one here? If you want the people to come to you, you have to go to the people. (But there’s the rub, isn’t it. Do they even really WANT the people to come to them? Or, much like you, is there some obscure sense of pride and upholding of race privilege that comes from the idea that theater is only for White people? Does that not satisfy some hibernating feeling of superiority? Is that not some racist, classicist, supremacist thinking? Just asking…)
- Last crumb to chew on. You mention Hip Hop and Jazz, birthed in Black culture, and how White audiences enjoy it. Similarly, you say that there are some non-whites who enjoy theater. But a flaw: unlike Hip Hop and Jazz that are legitimately traced to the Black community, theater is not exclusively traced to White and European communities. And there was a time when the commercial viability of both Hip Hop and Jazz was grossly under-estimated by the music industry. They were given a short life expectancy. The break in traditional music form was considered inferior art and was therefore deemed temporary. But alas, both art forms are here to stay. They have made our music catalogs better, re-shaped the world of music, and been imitated and co-opted by continuing generations. And just like Hip Hop and Jazz, Audiences of Color are grossly under-estimated and here to stay. They may be under-represented, but their life will be long and they will make our theaters better. If they are currently missing-in-action from the party, the failure is not theirs, but rather the party-planner. Nonetheless, the audiences dance on, with or without your invitation….

MrBlifil says:
January 6, 2012 at 8:33 pm

I would just like to state for the record that Dominique Morriseau is one of the countries most gifted playwrights. To my mind she is also one of the most unfairly overlooked talents working right now. That said I’d find her views persuasive even if I didn’t have knowledge of her (we have never met, so she has no knowledge of me). Please avail yourself of the opportunity to learn from her perspective.
Broadway is a direct descendent of Vaudeville which was born, in part, of the Minstrel Show. Whites were so starved for entertainment they appropriated black art forms without allowing the original practitioners to be seen. Premiere white artists from Jolson to Elvis to Andrew Lloyd Webber have regularly and routinely drawn from this well of influence. This article reads like it was written with a stick of greasepaint, applied without the slightest hint of irony, and with expectations of plaudits at the end. A very unfortunate endeavor to say the least.

Erin Washington says:
January 6, 2012 at 7:32 am

Thank you for your thoughts- but i have to STRONGLY disagree on many points. Theatre is more than just Boradway!! Theatre is the college play to the play that a group is creating in Oakland- to the piece in the NYC Fringe! Theatre is all!! Secondly- Theatre was not first created as an art form just by the Greeks! Theatre was created from oral traditions- many cultures were telling stories in their communities!
I hear you about the numbers/ the stats- but how could you then turn around and say that theatre is a white art form? I knew the “stats” before i voted for Obama to be President, but that didn’t make me say- Oh, i can’t vote for him, America is supposed to have white Presidents- NO!!! I voted for my choice! People of color are some of the hugest supporters of our culture! We may not support all BROADWAY shows but we support many markets of theatre- I think you should redefine “legit” in your terminology!
I went and saw STICK FLY last night on BROADWAY! It was amazing! The racial makeup in the theatre was about 70 percent black and 30 percent other! I would love for more of us to come to more things but we are not advertised too! Not only for Broadway- but for regional theatre as well! No one is knocking on the doors of our high rise apartments, our beauty salons, our college bar nights and project buildings- NO- people are charging TOO MUCH MONEY to enjoy a posh night at the theatre!
I am thankful you wrote about this- this needs to be talked about!
My conclusion- Theatre is for ALL people! Once we figure that out in America- we will actually become the nation we said we were going to be.

Kelley Nicole Girod says:
January 6, 2012 at 8:57 am

To both Toms, Laughlin and Garvey,
I would like to invite you both to my festival, The Fire This Time, which opens Jan. 16 in the lower east side, 85 E. 4th St. This festival supports playwrights of African and African American descent. In all of our three years we have packed our houses to the point of having to turn people away. We have been featured in the new york times, and American Theatre Magazine to name a few. I am extending this invitation because the main problem with this post seems to be the fact that you are sitting somewhere(not in a theatre) reading stats rather than experiencing theatre for yourself, because if you were doing the latter you would not have written this in the first place. As many people have already pointed out to you, Broadway is a small segment of the theatre world. Many writers and audiences, both white and non-white, neither aspire to have their work done on broadway or choose to patronize it. And no matter how much Mr. Garvey chooses to defend you, and he’s a really great friend for doing it, your argument is flimsy based soley on that fact. But as I said, I am offering you both the opportunity to see for yourselves what the rest of the theatre world looks like just in Manhattan, not even in Harlem, Brooklyn, Bronx, Long Island, and Queens which each have their own thriving theatre scenes. Please email me at and I will give you complimentary tickets to as many of our events as you wish to attend. I do hope you accept, especially if you believe in your argument enough to put it to the test. And, being the nice Southern girl my mother raised me to be, we can even discuss your observations over a nice bowl of gumbo afterwards. That bowl of gumbo is extended to you as well Mr. Garvey. I hope to hear from you soon.
Kelley Nicole Girod
founder, Executive Producer, The Fire This Time

Scott Walters says:
January 6, 2012 at 9:12 am

When I read Tom’s essay, I knew it would be controversial, and allow a lot of people to thump their breasts in outrage. But it amazes me how easy it is for people to thump, and how hard it seems for them to do anything that might change the status quo for the better. Tom and I have been putting statistics out there year after year showing the problem, and everybody nods and then goes back to figuring out how to use Twitter better. Any suggestions that might lead to change is greeted with “concern” or dismissal, because change might “hurt” some people or institutions that people aspire to, or worse might impact our own career. But those statistics that Tom puts out there aren’t made up. So we have two options: accept them as permanent reality, or do something that leads to change. And my experience is, for all the chest thumping, people lack the courage and desire to change anything.
There is a documentary called “The Essential Blue Eyed,” which revisits the teacher who did the experiment with her elementary school students where blue eyes were embued with all the negative stereotypes usually applied to African-Americans. At one point in the documentary, she is addressing a gathering of teachers, and she says, “Stand up if you would like to change your white skin color for black.” She waits — nobody rises. She then says, “That means that you know what’s happening, you know it’s wrong. So why aren’t you doing something?”
So yeah, the quotation asks you to do something. Something more than sighing and expressing your oh-so-enlightened sensibilities. So let’s see it. Let’s see a suggestion for change that actually is radical enough to address this imbalance. Let’s see YOU suggest something, instead of simply picking the holes in the ideas of others.
There is an essay about race and privilege that defines “prejudice” as something that happens at the level of the individual, and “racism” as something that happens at the level of the system. It is possible to benefit from racism even if you aren’t prejudiced. That’s where we’re at now: we have a theatrical system that is racist, elitist, and urbanist. The author says there are three categories: “active racism,” “passive racism,” and “active anti-racism.” Active racism is exemplified by the KKK and others who actively do racist acts. Active anti-racism are people who seek to intervene and actively counter-act racism. And Passive racism are people who don’t do anything racist, but they just go along. The analogy is to the moving sidewalks in airports: racists walk fast forward, anti-racists walk fast backwards, and passive racists stand still but are moved along by the escalator. The latter is what most theatre people are — passive racists/elitists/urbanists. And until they get off the schneid, then Tom’s analysis is spot-on

KDT says:
January 6, 2012 at 10:58 am

Scott –
You said:
“I knew it would be controversial, and allow a lot of people to thump their breasts in outrage. But it amazes me how easy it is for people to thump, and how hard it seems for them to do anything that might change the status quo for the better.”
I do not “thump my chest” in outrage when I am exposed to racist idiocy, whether that is provided by “passive racists” (more on this later) like Tom, or by presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. The issue here is that the “status quo” as articulated by people like Tom, assume that people of color are always already outside the framework of successful theater. Unlike your interpretation of Tom’s article, this isn’t about making things better, this is about the fact that POC somehow don’t understand, contribute to, or enrich “white theater” and “white theatrical traditions” much less have any of their own.
“Tom and I have been putting statistics out there year after year showing the problem, and everybody nods and then goes back to figuring out how to use Twitter better.”
Who have you been “putting the statistics out” to? Who have you approached? Where have you approached them? Who is this nameless “everybody?”
If three Broadway theaters at the same time did three black plays, what do you think would happen? Play along with me here. Let’s say that Ruined by Lynn Nottage (the only Pulitzer Prize winning playwright to not have their show produced on Broadway), The Good Negro by Tracey Scott Wilson and Passing Strange (in revival) all were brought to Broadway, what would happen? Why hasn’t this happened?
Maybe the questions you should be asking is why white people have issues with supporting black theaters and actors. Why white people have issues supporting black theater that isn’t comprised solely of dancing and singing negroes in gospel choirs. Why white people have issues support black art that try to actually have complicated engagement with questions about race. Why those productions and why that sort of art isn’t produced.
“There is a documentary called “The Essential Blue Eyed,” which revisits the teacher who did the experiment with her elementary school students where blue eyes were embued with all the negative stereotypes usually applied to African-Americans. At one point in the documentary, she is addressing a gathering of teachers, and she says, “Stand up if you would like to change your white skin color for black.” She waits — nobody rises. She then says, “That means that you know what’s happening, you know it’s wrong. So why aren’t you doing something?””
I don’t even understand this statement. What does racism have to do with wanting to be your race? I’m thrilled to be black. I love it. That’s not the problem. The problem is that I have to be black in a world full of ignorant white people spouting ignorant racist malarkey like this blog post. We are who we are and we should STAY who we are. The issue is that we aren’t allowed to be our full selves within those identities if we are black.
I would LOVE to do something about this, but see, all the power with producing Broadway shows? That doesn’t lie with me. Although I can tell you all the writers and directors and actors of color who are wandering around trying to find space and appreciation for their outstanding work even as they are subjected to a cavalcade of shitty art (on TV, on the stage, etc.) made by white people who just so happen to get more praise and recognition and support for their work. When black and brown people are allowed to be a part of the artistic zeitgeist, they participate in it. As someone said above, you have to be a part of the community to participate in it.
Apparently, you think black and other POC should be thrilled to support and participate in their own exclusion. This isn’t about “picking holes in the ideas of others” its about fighting (AGAIN!) the ridiculous assumptions of entitlement, privilege and racist ideologies that even made Tom think this analysis and post are a GOOD IDEA. He actually managed to disparage centuries of artistic traditions outside the western idiom, the artistic IQ of entire groups of people and reduce POC to two levels of their huge artistic contribution in less than 2,000 words. How embarrassing. And you are actually supporting him in that endeavor.
“Active racism is exemplified by the KKK and others who actively do racist acts.”
And herein lies the essential problem. Because people like Tom and you think that racism only happens if someone is beating someone down with a bat or burning a cross. This sort of blog, this sort of defense and the constant psychic abuse of insinuating the inferiority of the other (in so many ways) is the active racism that makes us who we are.
Our belief that the racists are “those people over there” and that passive racism (like there is any such thing!) is somehow kinder and gentler, is precisely what keeps black playwrights, directors and actors from the stages in this city and beyond.
I cannot even be articulate about my anger here. I find this blog to be unbearably flawed and hurtful and on behalf of all of friends, family and loved ones in the theatre and arts community in this city, I can only say up yours.

Robert Silverman says:
January 6, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Scott. People are pissed because Tom (and you) use Broadway to define ALL of theater and then from that fallacy, make a silly, racist, and non-factually based statement that theater is for white people.
At least 3-4 commenters have given examples of the work they are doing in non-white or multi-ethnic theaters. Instead of acting aggrieved that anyone would challenge Tom (and you), why not consider what they wrote as opposed to spewing some intellectually dishonest, defensive pablum.

Aaron Andersen says:
January 8, 2012 at 5:29 pm

I want to say that Scott Walters would NEVER use Broadway to define all of theater. That would defy everything he stands for and expresses at his own blog (click his name for the link). I also want to say that Scott is trying to point out that institutional racism is real and needs to be dealt with, though he calls it “passive racism”.
I also need to say that Scott is missing the point of the criticism in these comments, entirely.

MrBlifil says:
January 6, 2012 at 8:43 pm

What unadulterated horse hockey. How do you know who uses Twitter and to what end? Answer: you don’t, and are casting about for ways to denigrate just for the hell of it.
The author went well beyond pointing out racial disparity on Broadway or off. His central point is that racial disparity is The Way Things Should Be. That blacks somehow don’t have a tradition of live performance that they can call “theirs.” That these offensive ideas are blandly put forward as No Big Deal merely compounds their damaging impact. And if people don’t like receiving criticism, the solution resides in how and when they decide to put forward inflammatory notions.

Aaron Andersen says:
January 8, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Here’s what those of us who are white can actually do. We can shut the fuck up, for five seconds, and make room in the conversation to hear from voices of people of color. I know it’s hard for us white people, but we really can do it if we try.
Then we can realize that we can also make more room in the theatrical world for the voices of artists of color. This happens already, but not enough. And we need to actually create ENOUGH room so that those artists have TIME to build an audience. And those of us who have a voice in programming and administration have to stop saying the following: “We TRIED to produce a work last season by a playwright of color. Nobody except our subscribers CAME.” Because it takes time. It takes patience, and it takes shutting up and listening.

Joshua Conkel says:
January 6, 2012 at 10:27 am

I would agree with John and others that this probably has more to do with income than race. Unfortunately, Americans are only just beginning to talk about income disparity and most people are still very, very uncomfortable speaking on class. Poor whites don’t see theater either (I’m extrapolating from my rural, poor white childhood here, as I don’t think any studies have been done on the subject.)
To Garvey’s point, poor people will pay for a pop concert because pop music has had a constant (and mostly free) presence throughout their entire lives. Going to an actual concert is a pretty rare and very special event.
Scott, it’s dangerous to make assumptions about what others do or do not do. Do you assume whiteness in the comments section? I know four of these commentors in real life, all African American theater artists who actually “do something” to make the theater a better and more equal place. I agree with your larger point about passive racism and forgive me if I’ve misunderstood you.
On a different subject, I’d love to see some studies on location and theater attendance, because how does one become a theater goer if there’s no theater? I, for one, had my earliest exposure to theater on PBS, which doesn’t really happen anymore, does it?

Claudia Alick says:
January 6, 2012 at 11:54 am

my responce– looks like it didn’t post yesterday! Here tis
I’ll be using the universal “you” in this response. Please try not to not to take personal offence. We live in offensive times with offensive exclusionary beliefs and practices that must be countered. I get it. You’re not racist. You’re just playing devil’s advocate. So let’s put the devil to rest.
“Given all the demographics we know about theatre in the US and westernized countries today, I think it’s safe to make the following conclusion: Theatre is primarily for white people, as both audience members and practitioners.”
This is a dangerous and ignorant assumption. Broadway is not THEATER. It is one place theater takes place. Theater is happening in many places that these studies do not track, cannot track. Because it is taking place in communities you are assuming don’t exist because you chose to ignore or reject them.
“is it so bad to admit that theatre is for white people?”
YES. That’s not admitting, that’s claiming, that’s giving in to a lazy world view. Perhaps the question should be restated. Is it a bad thing that we are making our theater only for white people…affluent white people? It’s a comforting world-view. If theater is naturally for white people we don’t have to feel bad that we fail to hire people of color; we fail to tell their stories; we fail to represent this huge part of the culture of our country.
The argument that “legit” theater is based in Greek forms and western culture and therefore it is ok that we exclude non-whites from representation is backward. Ethnically specific theater companies have not failed due to a lack of audience interest. They are disappearing due to many issues- funding being diverted to larger primarily white institutions (sometimes expressly for diversity work)- a weak economy and a lack of financial support, weakened talent base- I could go on and on, but I’ll save it for a separate article. Also form and content of theater has been vitally affected by the diverse cultures of the United States.

This argument is specious. You can argue that many things must be for just a certain class of people since they have been dominating it for so long but that only leads to specialization and death. Many theaters in the United States are in crisis about the future of their audiences. They are getting older, running out of money, losing interest. The only way to engage the people we have been systematically excluding is to hire them, tell their stories, and stop telling ourselves theater is only for white people.
I am grateful to be engaged in this work . join me. Our future can be vital but only if we do the work.

B W says:
January 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I agree with those who state that you are jumping to conclusions based on a limited data set and research question. Broadway and the regions are not the only performing arts venues in this country and performing arts viewing, in general, is a generational phenomenon. Since Broadway and the regions have practiced a level of exclusivity through content and ticket price, it goes without saying that certain demographic groups do not attend. I find your research question lacking in depth thus causing a “skewed” and limited finding.

Melissa Chalsma says:
January 6, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Tom, you will be happy to know the theater I work with in Los Angeles has an audience 49% of which define themselves as non-caucasian. The plays we produce? Shakespeare. An outdoor, summer Shakespeare Festival where half the 25,000 audience members are non-white. Our acting company? About the same level of diversity. Why? Because we live in America and actually care about serving the entire range of our community, and representing the world as it is today. Plus, we’re just modern that way. And no one has bothered to tell Los Angelenos that many of them aren’t supposed to be interested in plays.

cWj says:
January 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Not all Black theater takes place in a context the fits into the theatre company concept this writer seems to have limited his discussion to.
You may be familiar with Tyler Perry. He is not the first person to experience success on the stage with largely Black audiences. Search “chitlin circuit”, “Black theater circuit”, “Shelley Garrett”.
Black America typically doesn’t to see theater on Broadway because Black theater has for so long not taken place there. We see that, when it does, they do.
While it’s changing, we’re all (still) a nation of people who choose to be entertained by people who look like us.
As long as the people with most of the money look a certain way, the best-funded places for storytelling will probably tell stories about them.
But one shouldn’t take that to mean that the “other” people aren’t telling their own stories…..

cWj says:
January 6, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Just because Black.Brown.Yellow.Beige.Plaid people don’t go to theater on Broadway or in league regional theaters, does not mean they don’t got to the see theatre.
Searches for the interested: “chitlin circuit”, “Black touring theater”, “Shelley Garrett”.
I can tell you that, in cities with sizeable Afr-Amer populations, there will be a show that comes through, performed in civic centers/arenas instead of the local league regional house, that will do in Fri-Sun what the nearest league regional company does with their marquee production for it entire run.
We can talk about artistry and all that, but theater is theater at some point.

Bobby Plasencia says:
January 6, 2012 at 2:44 pm

I’ll simply quote what a black waste collector once told me when I tried to register him to vote in Tampa, Florida back during the 2004 Presidential race, “Why would I register to vote? It’s a white world. We only live in it.”

REALLY? says:
January 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Broadway is not the only street for theater in the world.
It seems you’ve used these silly statistics as a platform to spout your long nurtured, close minded view of race in this country.
Thank God this link is getting shared throughout the internet; your bigotry is almost as awful as your terrible writing.

Thomas Garvey says:
January 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Just a few more thoughts in between all the thumping of chests and gnashing of teeth – not that these aren’t fun! People who point to the fact that these are only Broadway stats at least have some obligation to come up with another data set, or perhaps admit that their argument is hanging in a statistical vacuum emptier than Tom’s. Pointing in outrage to the theatre festival YOU happen to be a part of is obviously an even weaker statistical basis for a debate over this issue than Broadway stats, btw. (OBVIOUSLY, guys, please!) Because frankly, I see theatre all the time in all kinds of venues, and I’d say these stats look roughly like what you find across the profit/non-profit spectrum in Boston.

MrBlifil says:
January 6, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Thomas: I have to take issue with the notion that there’s anything “fun” about reading and responding to racial insensitivity. Yes, the author has put forward ideas that are poorly argued, insupportable, and dunderheaded. But beyond that the ideas are hurtful, a fact the author seems to implicitly understand. I don’t think there’s anything “fun” or “entertaining” about hurtful rhetoric causing outrage and confusion. Neither is the parade of insensitivity being spouted by the author’s defenders, whatever their conscious motives may be.

Thomas Garvey says:
January 7, 2012 at 11:09 am

Outrage and confusion my ass. This is a witch hunt, pure and simple. And what’s “fun” about it is how ridiculous you self-dramatizing jerks look. Tom Loughlin is obviously not a racist – OBVIOUSLY – and the nasty invective thrown in his direction in this comment thread is just revolting. What can I say? Clearly you people know from “hurtful”! If you have a competing explanation for why dialogue-driven, text-based theatre flourished in Europe in a way that it did hardly anywhere else, then LET’S HEAR IT. And all you folks testifying to your commitment to non-profit groups – I admire you, but try to appreciate that the very fact that such efforts remain small and non-profit may SUPPORT Tom’s argument rather than undermine it. In other words, try to put together an actual argument, as opposed to an unfounded accusation, okay? I’m not sure you can do it – but try.

Ron Russell says:
January 7, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Thomas, I will try to make it as clear as I possibly can to you and your fellow Laughlin-apologists why people all across this country, of every race, are screeching about Tom’s blog (including myself), outside of any personal “sensitivities” any of us may have.
It contains a gut-wrenching and demoralizing hypocrisy that you are, de facto, defending.
If Tom’s blog was legitimately to point out a problem that deserves a solution, that is, that the commercial theatre is just not reaching non-white folks (which pre-supposes that he wishes it would, otherwise why write it, and he verifies this in his blog), then…
…how many non-white people, do you think, will read this post, and be forever alienated from the theatre, commercial or otherwise?
how much damage did Tom do to what you’re implying is his own personal quest to right a wrong?
Alternatively, how many non-white people do you think Tom’s blog endeared and/or encouraged toward theatrical participation?
Reckon me that ratio, please.

James Wallert says:
January 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Your rigorous, intrepid internet research and keen analysis has inspired me to do some of my own. I went online and discovered that your college, SUNY Fredonia, has an 84% white enrollment among first year students (second highest in the SUNY system). The village of Fredonia is 96.36% white, according to the 2000 census. Given all we know about domestic migration flows and social trends in the US and Westernized countries today, I think it’s safe to make the following conclusion: Non-white people intensely dislike Tom Loughlin and flee any area he frequents.
When I first saw these statistics, I felt such guilt and anguish: that it’s a “bad thing” that Tom and his thoughtful insights aren’t shared or enjoyed by large numbers of non-whites. I felt so bad, in fact, that I even did some of my own highly-scientific “not seen any indication” research that Tom pioneered through his thorough investigation of Motherfucker with the Hat and Chinglish- Last night I stood on a street corner in Harlem for 45 minutes shouting Tom’s name at the top of my lungs and I saw almost no indication of any recognition or appreciation for Tom or his work. The few responses I did receive ranged from indifferent to downright violent. All this is not by way of criticism, mind you. To each his own. But numbers don’t lie- whether those numbers are secured from the internet, from a grossly inadequate, inappropriate, or irrelevant sample group, or from my own non-experience of things I don’t see in places I rarely am. You taught me that Tom.
So give Tom a break, all you non-white producers, playwrights, actors, directors, stage managers, and audience members chiming in (both here and on Facebook) to offer your two cents. Tom did his homework and you don’t like theatre. So just give up the charade. You’re not fooling anyone.
And Tom, you keep on keeping on with your “general theatre musings” (I get bored too easily with a lot of specifics). You continue to offer down these nuggets of dominant cultural wisdom from atop your ivory tractor and don’t let all this “Poor Playa-hating” get you down.

chris says:
January 6, 2012 at 8:01 pm

It see,ms to me that you take the information from the bullet points, which references Broadway houses and extend it to the entire theatre universe. This makes your premise unclear and your resulting opinion specious.
I agree with many above. It is the price of a Broadway ticket that decides the complexion of the audience. And, yes, I suppose that opens up a whole other can of worms about race, class and wealth concentration.
Be smarter.

Robert Silverman says:
January 6, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Are you this dense or are you being purposely obtuse? It’s not “fun,” Tom. People are not “thumping their chests and gnashing their teeth” out of sport. They’re legitimately offended b/c your so-called Professor based his opinions on 1) shitty analysis and 2) condescendingly racist assumptions.
So for you to mock their justified anger like some smirking Fox News pundit or Limbaugh-ite is all the more galling.
Go to Asia. Go to South America. Go to Africa and tell all the actors, writers, and designers working in the theater there that they’re wasting their time b/c Tom Laughlin made the BRILLIANT deduction that on Broadway, white people enjoy seeing plays that are produced by white people about white people’s issues.
And therefore theater is a “White” art form.
Bravo. For the both of youse, from my heart, go fuck yourself two times.

Thomas Garvey says:
January 7, 2012 at 11:17 am

Oh, but Robert you’re SUCH a vicious clown, how could you not be “fun”? I mean, do you really expect me to applaud your vitriolic attacks on an earnest academic who is devoted to the political ideals you supposedly share, but has made the mistake of musing honestly on some inconvenient statistics? And do you expect me to buy your whole P.C. Miles-Gloriosus act? Sorry, no can do. But then I don’t think intelligent readers need me to point all this out – you reveal your own lack of character, and the speciousness of your arguments, every time you drop the f-bomb.

Robert Silverman says:
January 7, 2012 at 3:13 pm

First of all, please stop using “muse” as a verb, unless you’re Ann Landers, it’s annoying.
Second – I don’t care if you applaud or not. But to act like people’s anger is funny is just galling.
Third – “Inconvenient statistics?” That’s the WHOLE point. He’s taking a set of stats that I (and a number of posters) have pointed out are INADEQUATE to making the blanket statements he made. (more on this in a sec).
Fourth – PC? What the hell does political correctness have to do with this? You’re right. I got mean. But your ‘Earnest Professor’ offended me and scores of the people I work with. But you haven’t made ONE POINT that refutes mine aside from saying that I’m a jerk so Tom must be right.
Finally, you’re right. There’s no need to get rude. I apologize. Let me tone it down. I think where Prof Tom makes his mistake, is assuming Broadway = theater. Even if you want to amend his argument to say he meant to say, Broadway = American Theater (b/c the rest of the planet, white and non-white alike, has centuries of theatrical traditions that immediately render his argument false). Broadway is an incredibly limited, inadequate sample size from which to make that assumption. Why? Broadway markets itself to tourists and very wealthy New Yorkers. That’s how it survives in the world of NYC real estate, where rent for a B’way house can cost up to 500k per MONTH. Tourists and very wealthy New Yorkers are, in the vast majority, white. That’s the problem w/his post. The best, most exciting theater (theater as an art form) is certainly not being done on Broadway. So if you want to have a convo about theater as art, you’re choosing the worst possible sample group from which to glean statistics. I think making the point about who it “belongs” to as an ethnic group is silly/pointless to begin with, but if that’s what one wants to do, there’s far more rigorous research required before posting something like this.
You said in a different post that we commenters should come up w/data that disproves his argument. Actually, no. The burden of proof is on the person making the argument. If he’s going to make all-encompassing statements, he’s the one who’s required to make an irrefutable case, not us.

Thomas Garvey says:
January 7, 2012 at 11:57 pm

You know, you keep acting as if Tom Loughlin had published some racist pamphlet or something, instead of sighing over an unfortunate statistic, scratching his head, and wondering whether cultural realities were against him. And yeah, you do have to have a counter-argument, which means you have to have some data, or SOMETHING; jumping up and down and shouting “You’re wrong and evil!” isn’t enough. For instance, if I were to say to you, “Spoken-word theatre in African-American communities primarily takes the form of rap” – what would you say in response? That no, they should be doing dialogue-driven, liberal-leaning “dramas” instead? Sometimes this kind of naivete makes me really wonder about cultural imperialism, and how its supposed opponents may actually be its most devoted servants.

Esther says:
January 6, 2012 at 11:39 pm

I think this could have been written in a more elegant, thoughtful and less provocative way. And I certainly don’t think that theatre is a white people’s art form. I haven’t made a study of this but I’m pretty sure it exists in all cultures. Certainly storytelling does.
But I do have to agree with Thomas Garvey on one point. When I go to the theatre in Boston or Providence, the audiences skew older and white, even when the story involves African-Americans. (This goes for plays as well as touring Broadway musicals). It’s possible I just go on the wrong day. And Providence doesn’t have a huge black population. (It did have a black theatre company but it folded a few years ago.)
I don’t know whether it’s a failure of marketing or what. I know Trinity Rep in Providence has a big education program that brings high school kids to the theatre but it doesn’t seem keep them coming as adults. I remember seeing A Raisin in the Sun a few years ago and when the lights came on at intermission, the audience was almost completely white.
Part of the problem is that theatre is competing for people’s time and money in an era when there’s even less reason to leave to house. So who goes to the theatre – students, if they’re interested and can afford a ticket, or older people whose kids are grown, who may have the time and disposable income, or tourists, who are on vacation and have lots of time.
Anyway, compared with audiences in Boston and Providence, Broadway seems much more diverse. Shows like Fela, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Memphis, Passing Strange, The Mountaintop, all of which I’ve seen, attracted a large number of African-Americans. So it’s not impossible.
One other thing I wanted to bring up – the Broadway League statistics also point out that theatergoing is becoming something that women do. And I would hate to see it marginalized because of that – dismissed in the same breath as chick lit and chick flicks.
So, I don’t have an answer. It’s certainly not to throw up your arms and say, it’s just a white people thing. (Or an older, affluent, female white people thing.)

Random Small Producer says:
January 7, 2012 at 2:25 am

As a resident of a minority/majority region… that would be a non-white majority that still commands minority status… and as a producer of small professional theater that, understanding the tar and feather reaction any agreement with Tom will provoke, crafted a fake email to comment. I see the same numbers.
Anecdotal, yes, but I have been standing at the box office of a well established “minority” production company listening as company officers celebrate that after ten years of selling season subscriptions, they finally have their FIRST subscriber of their own ethnicity. Isn’t that weird? Of them, by them, and for them… but not patronized by them?
Year after year, campaign after campaign, grant after grant, nurturing, sponsoring, developing minority arts, we see theater dominated by Caucasians. With no “white arts councils,” no “young white artist” scholarships or residencies, this persists. I can’t believe there is a well orchestrated stormtrooper assault to crush the minority artists and certainly none stating preference to Caucasian students. That money and energy is going towards what patrons will support.
I have to ask the obvious:
Is it wrong to have a white art?
No person would ever begrudge Rap or Mariachi or Kabuki “belonging” to a group, yet I have several Caucasian acquaintances active in the performance and production of these genres. If a culture embraces an art that has LOOOONG outlived its commercial viability – face it, a good DVR costs less than a reasonable orchestra seat – is it so awful to credit them with it, to ascribe identification to it? The cities, states and corporations fund the minority arts. The patrons fund the rest of us.
I have my personal theories to the issue, revolving around religious assemblage historically acting as nexus for minority communities is reflected in white secular communities as theater and performing arts… but I am not about to pursue that socially and politically suicidal path study.
Tom, this is the 800 pound gorilla in the room for many of us and I appreciate your naming it. I am terribly sorry that the “open minded” among us have declared in lock-step agreement to crush you under the hobnailed boot of mandatory diversity.
I, too, invite you to fuck yourselves… but in a Lenny Bruce standup sense. Fuck you so very much for asking such a difficult question.

Thomas Garvey says:
January 7, 2012 at 11:27 am

Thank you, Random Small Producer, for a breath of fresh, unpoisoned air in what has otherwise been a truly odious (and odorous) comment thread.
I would add, though, that I worry about this term “white” being bandied about too easily – what many of these people may be reacting to is the awful way various racists, and the whole “Bell Curve” crowd, like to confuse cultural dispositions with genetic ones, which they like to imagine are “racial.”
But you kind of hit the nail on the head when you mention how easily we ascribe certain art forms to various ethnic groups – yet oddly enough go haywire whenever someone like Tom points out that “dialogue theatre” is largely a European cultural form. If we were to visit Japan, for instance and discovered a nonprofit group devoted passionately to training underprivileged Westerners in kabuki, we might find it a little odd – even a little amusing. I think in the end that kind of worldly perspective is all Tom may be arguing for.

Alexandra Erin says:
January 7, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Someone who’s anecdata supports your viewpoint is a breath of fresh air. Everybody else’s experiences is just statistically insignificant teeth-gnashing and wailing.
The person who enters a conversation to champion the status quo under the guise of being the voice of reason who’s willing to speak the uncomfortable truths is usually pretty transparent, but rarely as transparent as you are.

Thomas Garvey says:
January 8, 2012 at 10:28 am

Alexandra, please. He didn’t “champion the status quo,” and neither am I. (And neither is Tom Loughlin.) You’re just being silly.

Alexandra Erin says:
January 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Outrage and confusion my ass. This is a witch hunt, pure and simple. And what’s “fun” about it is how ri

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