A Real Paradigm Shift
In my consideration of the pervasive malaise afflicting the so-called Black Theater in this the twenty-first century; I am painfully reminded of Langston Hughes’ reproach to his fellows during the heyday of the so-called Black Renaissance (and I’m paraphrasing) “when white people stop spending money on us, we will dry up.” Which is exactly what happened to the Black Arts during and after the Great Depression in the twentieth century?
Now in the twenty-first century, the wholesale robbery by big Bad Bankstas and the ensuing economic decline; American theater in general and Black theater in particular finds itself—again, facing pertinent issues of survival. The awful reality of our situation is compounded with the death of so many Black Theater venues unable to keep its doors open. Those that do so are heavily reliant on foundation funding and not grassroots audience support. To intelligently consider these issues it is first necessary to dispel some very pervasive myths that cling like cobwebs on the psyche of Black Theater professional practitioners. The first being: “there is no money in theater.” American Theater is a multi-billion dollar industry. With a trickle down effect to the artist; this Paradigm Construct constricts the flow of capital from top to bottom. If artist scramble for the scraps thrown their way; they are far more obliging than they would be otherwise, having full access to modes of production. What are these modes of production?
First, there exist the Theater hierarchy models with the “producer” allegedly at the top. Who is actually a front office fake. Producers don’t produce anything but the myths. They are conduits for the money given to them for productions. If the dismal history and experience of producers in Black Theater is any indication, this is inherently, a flawed model. A case in point: It is highly unlikely that any producer –white or especially Black--would have produced even one show by Tyler Perry. In addition, Mr. Perry’s theater requires a constant of grassroots audience support at the box office. In other words, his shows could not be dependent on the suspect ability of “producers” to cobble together funding for shows needed to run in such a manner as to garner a national profile of his brand—make no mistake—his is a branding-- of theater. Neither did Mr. Perry attempt to do theater in the conventional sense, nor did he court the existing and established paradigm construct for distribution of his theatrical product.
Many have problems ranging from aesthetics to just plain hatin’ with the Tyler Perry product. However, for all the castigation of his work; I have yet to hear any aesthetic or intellectual criticism of his audience, who by the way, love his work with an exceedingly great love. Those who rant against his art are mainly those who have yet to put forward an artistic or intellectually viable alternative to these issues; by failure to develop a production modality that offers YOUR theater product to the very same audience. The likelihood of this alternative occurring is ever so slight because of the heavy reliance on the establish paradigm by the mainstay of Black theater operators, professionals and practitioners. This is decidedly a stranglehold on the growth of Black Community Theater. We seem to be waiting for “better times.” There are no better times coming. There never were better times. There were times when we enjoyed the influx of white money. But his was also true of the Public Welfare system. Speaking of welfare…
There exists a baleful “Culture of Lack” casting a pall of disambiguation in the communal conversation defining the true essence of an efficacious and viable Black Theater Business Aesthetic.
"Our theater resembles those myriad third world nations, full of unimaginable resources, yet dependent on handouts from wealthy societies whose very wealth is a result of our resource inequality."
Much of our talent resources are knocking at the doors of white groups who have a mandate to maintain a numbers game strategy, fulfilling funding requirements for diversity. There is a Monopolistic, Combine and conglomerate trend in America manufacturing, labour and entertainment industries.
I won’t go into further insults and slander against the existing order of things and its minions, but rather, will allow my readers to weigh, reflect on and engineer their own thoughts concerning these matters at hand. In many ways I have a distinct feeling of being somewhat akin to Noah who said to those who wouldn’t listen, there is going to be rain—and lots of it.
March 28, 2013