This post was written by guest blogger Carrie Cranford, ATC’s production manager extraordinaire.
Live theatre is a surprising beast. It has a mind of its own and no one, NO ONE, is going to ever truly harness control. I think that’s part of what makes it so exciting… yet also disappointing.
Last week, Actor’s Theatre opened Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris.
It was tremendously well-received. I heard many genuine accolades…
“Most provocative new script I’ve experienced in YEARS!”
“…setting the bar for Charlotte theatre a little higher…”
“It was better than Cats…” (actually, I was the one who said that, so just ignore that)
With such praise and enthusiasm, how could I possibly call it disappointing?? My disappointment lies not in the production itself, but in one patron’s reaction. If I sincerely thought it was one lone soul, I would ignore it, but I’m afraid it represents a portion of the Charlotte community who refuses to openly engage in sensitive dialogue about the issue of race.
While the production was underway this past Thursday evening, one woman had a rather harsh reaction. She rose from her seat, raised her palm to face the actors onstage, and shared with the audience her one-word description of the action at hand.
This classic 1990′s “talk to the hand” move was one she repeated as she made her way down the aisle, again being sure that the audience and actors understood her claim,
“Everyone here is racist.”
To be fair, this Pulitzer Prize winning script does contain words, phrases, and attitudes that we SHOULD, especially as people of a 21st century mindset, find offensive. No doubt about that. And if avoiding further offense was her only intention, I suppose she timed her exit quite well. Leaving midway through Act II, she narrowly escaped the portion of racially offensive jokes hurled out in a comedic passive aggressive showdown.
The abrupt interruption didn’t slow down the show, but it did prompt some interesting discussion at the talkback following the performance. It seemed I was not the only one disappointed in the actions displayed that night. The audience who witnessed the event seemed truly sorry that she did not stick around and share her feelings in the post-show discussion.
Actor Craig Spradley simply said…
“She got it. The woman who left. She got the play. She probably doesn’t even KNOW she got it.”
Further addressing the issue of race, director Dennis Delamar received an almost auditory “AMEN” from the crowd as he explained…
“It would be a shame to perform this show for an all white audience, or for an all black audience, because it is meant for us to watch together. To sit down beside one another and experience this production, and the discussion that it evokes, is what it’s all about.”
Brandi Feemster, an actor in the production, shared with everyone…
“We use the terms ‘racist’ and ‘not racist’ as if we’re either one or the other, but there are many degrees in between. Do I consider myself a racist? No. Have I ever made a judgement about someone based on their color? Yes.”
Brandi is a black woman who is not afraid of an honest discussion about the issue. She continued to make a very important distinction…
“The difference lies in whether or not you allow those preconceived judgments to influence your actions and behavior.”
When you see Clybourne Park next week, you’ll see this…
…though probably with a little more clarity. This was a photo i snapped during Thursday’s curtain call. I hope my point shines through the blur and that you can see this audience, of mixed race and varied generations, standing to applaud not only the art itself, but the courage and honesty of the performers as they make us laugh while revealing the good, bad, and ugly in each of us. But that’s what theatre is all about, isn’t it? That’s why we at ATC do what we do. We believe it sparks ideas and conversations that Charlotte needs to be having. And when one group gets up and walks out of that conversation, it makes positive change feel like a distant dream. Three steps forward, two steps back.
Now, I wasn’t actually in the room when the dramatic exit took place, but I will tell you this: I never questioned the woman’s race. Five days later, I am now informed that she was white. It’s a small descriptive detail that I filled in with my own prejudice assumptions. Wow… it seems as though I might be just one more reason for those ‘two steps back’. While I’m standing back here eating crow, perhaps I’ll watch the show a little more closely and think about what other assumptions I make that so clearly display my own prejudice.
You know, these actors didn’t have the opportunity to defend themselves against the accusation made of them on that fateful Thursday evening. Will they let that negative energy effect their performances? How will it impact them? As I was closing up the building, I saw this new message left by a cast member on the green room refrigerator:
It seems they’ll make it through… with a laugh… as always.