Racial Disparity: Caucasian Observations — Jaz Dorsey — AAPEX

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Racial Disparity: Caucasian Observations

THE CHITTLIN THIEF & what I think about it.

I'm probably one of the most Caucasian motherfukers you could find- Southern Aristocracy, Atlanta Junior League (not me - just all the women that raised me), blah blah blah. So naturally I get asked fairly often why I founded something called The African American Playwrights Exchange.

There's a couple of reasons, but the bottom line reason was I realized that there is a gold mine that no one is mining. And boy was I right. Over the past 5 years I have dialogued with more playwrights than I can remember. Most are "African American"- some are "Jewish" and some are "white" and one or two are "hispanic" but all of them, for whatever reason, are connected to the African American experience- and what this group of writers has created is a body of work going back to the 1970s that completely rethinks the history of our country and completely redesigns the gestalt of now.

So while it may be that in the past the Negro playwrights have not been compensated as well as the White playwrights - well, they couldn't even get their works read by regional theatres unless some grant hungry artistic director wanted to capitalize on "Black History Month" - anyway, my prediction is that all this is about to change. I personally am sitting next to a short shelf of brilliant plays by the best of the writers who have joined the AAPEX network. It has taken me 5 years to cull down this body of work so that I can begin to represent the best of these writers and scripts to the maximum potential market.

Down here in Nashville we have three "songwriting" terms which work for me as a dramaturg and they are "catalog," "hook" and "pitch." If your song has a hook you can pitch it and get it into some publishers catalog.

The same applies to plays.

Take, for instance, Mike Oatman's award winning play THE CHITTLIN THIEF. Now there's a play with a hook - i.e. a use of words that compels attention. And thanks to a combination of factors, including the fact that the author is a much produced playwright AND the playwright in residence at Karamu House in Cleveland, I am pretty convinced that I can pitch this to the right film maker eventually- not as an "agent" but as a "dramaturg."

One reason I believe that THE CHITTLIN THIEF will eventually be a blockbuster is because Oatman has created an awesome vehicle for some actors- as has Nathan Ross Freeman in HANNAH ELIAS, Hershell Norwood in BILLIE'S BLUES and Ben Marshall in THE BALCONY GOAT.

It is no historical mystery that oppression provokes cultural resistance and what the "African American" playwright may bring to the table of the moment is a richness of empathy for the human experience that can only come out of growing up in a culture and society which relegates all of one's ancestors to a generality defined by the word "minority."

Which comes to a whole 'nother consideration: Minority Theatre. That seems to encompass women, gays, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, American Indians, Jews, etc. Seriously, is the theatre majority in the domain of white, heterosexual Christian males? I don't see it.

The point of the theatre is to tell powerful stories that allow us to look at ourselves in the context of other people. In the theatre those "other people" are playwrights, actors, directors, designers, choreographers & composers & lyricists - et al. The African American Playwrights whose work I have read over the past five years have written those powerful stories. The scripts are there to be read and the stages are there to put them up on. After 60 years of dialogue that began with the Civil Rights movement, certainly by now we all agree that we are all Americans. These are American stories and it's time to tell them.

Call me a chittlin' thief, but that's what I think about it.

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre!

Jaz Dorsey
The African American Playwrights Exchange

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