While growing up in Kentucky, I heard a lot of slang and country dialects. While living in Chicago and dating a black man, I’ve heard some interesting choices of words. When conversing with the youth, it can sometimes be like trying to decipher a foreign language. But when reading All God’s Chillun Got Wings by Eugene O’Neill, I may as well be reading Shakespeare!! The dialect is from New York and is a hundred years old…
This morning during my Train-Reading, I made it half way through my Play of the Week. And I can assure you that it was no easy task. The script starts out with characters simply named WHITE GIRL, BLACK GIRL, and even COLORED GIRL. They are later revealed to be the main characters and are then given their respective names. So then I had to go back and figure out who was who, and of course the list of characters in the beginning did NOT state who was black and who was white (that’s important in this show). So it definitely took a minute to figure out what was going on, and as soon as I did the script jumps ahead nine years! What! Now, I gotta figure out who the hell is who all grown up! Mind you, I must admit that sometimes my eyes get ahead of my brain when reading and I forget to pay attention to who is speaking, and I skip right to reading the dialogue. But that’s another issue! I can’t wait to finish reading it, though! It tells me a lot about class and society from a century ago. To be honest, from what I’ve read so far, times haven’t changed a whole lot (well, except of course, we swore in our first African-American President!).
I also just finished re-reading the school version of Grease, because I’m on the Adult Showboard for the Brillianteen program associated with the McGaw YMCA of Evanston. This program is now in it’s 61st season, and on the board I guide a crew of high school juniors and seniors through producing their own show. I’m leading the Hair & Make-Up crews, and last night we had a joint meeting with the Costumes crew to discuss the upcoming production. Obviously, we have to think a lot about the cast members’ skin color. Not because we’re racist, although we’re all a little bit racist as they say in Avenue Q, but because we have a variety of students that we have to put foundation on each night. Honestly, I wish we had more diversity in the color of our students, but it’s hard to convince other ethnicities to sign up for the program. There are a few different hypotheses as to why this is. Perhaps it’s the cost of the program, although there are scholarships. But the main reason, I think, is the lack of representation in the shows that are chosen. Why would a black girl want to audition for Grease? Of course, the directors do colorblind casting, but traditionally people think of the characters in Grease as all white. Historically speaking, desegregation of schools was still happening at the end of the 1950s when this play is set. Every year, though, we are striving to encourage more students of different races to join.
This brings me to my last thought. I recently read the article The Great Whiter-Than-Ever Way, and it stated that 83% of all Broadway theatre-goers are WHITE. After discussing this with several people, there were many hypotheses again. Maybe it’s the lack of representation of characters on the stage. By this, I mean there’s no other ethnicities represented other than white most of the time. Perhaps it’s the price of the tickets (I mean, I can’t even afford a Broadway show). Or maybe it’s the lack of awareness about the production.
At any rate, we should strive to create diversity in theatre because I believe the arts should be shared with everyone. Theatre is my life, and I’m so glad that I’ve taken on the challenges of learning more about my profession and its impact on the world.