Even the Plank Chicken is White: diversity in performance

Author Name: 
David C. Jones

*Update:* _and the debate rages on. We publish Camyar Chai's "response":http://plankmagazine.com/thots/even-plank-chicken-white-3-how-far-have-w... to the issue of diversity started by David C. Jones. There is also a lively exchange happening at_ "vancouverplays":http://www.vancouverplays.com/letters.shtml

_We don’t have a “letters to the editors” section (yet) but we do get correspondence regularly and we are considering establishing a letters section (or another alternative) that will allow readers to initiate debate here at the “wood that talks”. In the meantime, we thought we would experiment with using our_ *Plank Thots* _section for any issues you may want to raise with the broader performing arts community._

_David C Jones raised the issue of the lack of ethnic diversity in Vancouver theatre at Jerry Wasserman’s "vancouverplays":http://www.vancouverplays.com/index.shtml site. David wrote to us with an update, which we include below, with his original letter following. Just to liven things up, we’re also posting Valerie Sing Turner’s response, which can be found_ "here":http://plankmagazine.com/thots/even-plank-chicken-white-2-white-identity...

Hey Plank

I wrote the below letter a while ago to "vancouverplays":http://www.vancouverplays.com/letters.shtml but since then I have notice yet a more disturbing trend. The young get imprinted by their older peers. Three productions just about to open by young production companies are _Armitage_ at Havana (UBC connection) _Ashes_ at the Firehall (Vancouver Film School) and a show by High Horse Production at PAL (not sure pedigree) each featuring a cast of five or more. All white! Young artists who are growing up in a world that is much more coloured than the world I grew up in making casting choices not based on the world they live in but possibly on the world that they see their theatre mentors have created. I don't think this is being done deliberately. I totally think it is being done unconsciously.

I also know we have a chicken and egg scenario. It’s hard to cast diversely since there are not enough diverse actors. Theatre schools aren't training a lot because they don't audition for the schools. Young, diverse high schools students do a field trip to see a show at The Arts Club or wherever. They see an all white cast and no matter how much they are captivated or intrigued by the thought of acting and getting training - they figure - why spend the money for training since I won't get cast anyway since the theatre is a mostly exclusively white career choice. Then a theatre company tries to cast diverse but there are no trained diverse actors.

Below is the original letter and at Jerry's site there is a really great response as well.

_And here’s David’s original letter_

I saw a show last night ( _Whale Riding Weather_ ) and although I enjoyed it I was troubled. Today as I was walking down the street I saw a sea of faces and then it hit me - this was the 6th show I’d seen in four weeks that had an all-white cast and it is really starting to bug me.

A quick look through the theatre directory on the web shows that this exclusive trend is rampant. One can argue that if it is a period piece like _The Constant Wife_ at the Stanley Theatre, you have to cast all white because of the time period (although I don't agree with that). But look at all the shows that are playing or have just closed: _Last Five Years_ and _There Came a Gypsy Riding_ both at Jericho Arts Centre - all white; _Three Viewings_ at Presentation House - all white; _Skydive_ at the Arts Club - all white; _Holy Mo_ at Pacific Theatre - all white; _Toronto, Mississippi_ at the Playhouse - all white; _Dial M for Murder_ at Metro Theatre - all white; _Opening Night_ at Vagabond Players – all white; _Art of Murder_ at the Gateway - all white.

Of the shows that are on now I found only three — _Altar Boyz_ (the Arts Club on tour), _Basic Training_ at the Clutch, _Lives Were Around Me_ at Battery Opera—in which you see a non-white face. [I can add Studio 58’s _Bye Bye Birdie_ and the one performance of _WEIGHTS_ on last Sunday at the Chan Centre. JW]

If one of the jobs of theatre is to hold a mirror up to society, then I don't know what society they are reflecting because it is not like any I have seen anywhere in Greater Vancouver.

And to be clear, I am not saying that local theatres should be doing Chinese or Black plays about the Chinese or Black 'experience' - it would just be nice to see some Chinese or Black faces on the local stages more regularly. Otherwise the theatre is going to become more and more unreal and exclusive and reflective of a society that doesn't exist anywhere in this city except on stage.

David C. Jones