"What's it like being black and in theater? Do people every judge you off of... you know, skin?", my student ask with an earnest face, her big brown eyes searching for an answer as she timidly looked down at her own dark brown skin.
It's black history month and I wanna take a look at the different areas that affect black folks to this day. How many no's did that person have to hear? Did they ever feel the pressure of the color of there skin when auditioning for those roles? Are they the one out of thousands that "made" it? I can only write about my experience as far as the places I've lived. Whether it's Baltimore, St. Louis, Iowa, or Knoxville the reach of black theatre is far and few. Now the bottom of the list is Iowa. Because it's Iowa, but there is still a widespread missed platform for black actors in the world.
Being a actor is hard. You have to face a slew of casting directors that could never call you back for a role or at least not for the role you deserve. I've been there. Sometimes left to wonder what I did or didn't do wrong. The great thing is that here in St. Louis there is only really a handful of minority actors and those actors all know each other one way or another. Coming from Iowa where I was almost the only minority let alone, black person that a casting team would see to St. Louis where they have their own black theatre groups it was comforting. The bad thing? It's still ruthless. Welcome to the home of the type cast.
That's what I had to share with my student. Hollywood isn't the only place you can be typecast, it can happen anywhere. There are few, *cough, cough* Will Smith, actors that can get away with not playing the same type of character. Those are far and few. Most of us are left to deal with the character we're dealt. I don't really have a grievance with typecasting though, My issue comes with landing only those stereotypical roles. You know... The roles most black folk get. The gangster, the baby mama, the thief, the maid, and so forth. That's one of the reasons I struggle with theatre. There is the other factor that you could get lost in a role, but that's another blog post. Today, we're focusing on a much bigger issue. There aren't many works that have diverse enough roles to get out of those stereotypical roles. So your typecast sucks.
The great thing is that we live in St. Louis, the home of The Black Rep, a theatre designed to give the black actors and black plays a chance. Click below to check out there website. Despite being typecast I was able to let my student know that she lives in a place where black voices have space in the world. It's a community where you can be embraced instead of shunned for your skin. The black rep is selective of the people that they cast to be in their shows so it's not always easy to get in, but they do have internship and volunteer opportunities.
There aren't a plethora of community opportunities for black actors to showcase their work, BUT organizations like JPEK Creative Works theatre exist. They produce more contemporary theatre that leans toward musical dramas. In Knoxville,
This conversation started off as me just chatting with my student, but she helped me realize something. Representation matters. It's not enough to just tell her "you have to be confident in a audition." It's providing her with the resources, providing all minority kids with the resource even some adults so they can go out here feeling great. Not everyone can afford a semester's tuition of acting courses and why pay for something you might not even want or like when you'll NEVER have the chance to use it. That's why my idea for a production company will be something I'll slowly be working on for this new year. I want kids and adults who have limited funds to be able to take short courses on theatre and work towards creating their own productions.
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