The Benefits of Slavery

In the 1970s Dr. Howard Washington Thurman, a theologian and mystic, and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a lecture on “the benefits of slavery.” In it he focused on the mindset of the African people and how the creative center of their “being” developed, because of their closeness with nature and “the presence,” which they experienced everywhere and in every thing. He also talked about the fact that as a result of slavery, their creative, intuitive, compassionate, and forgiving mindset was spread throughout the world. He went on to suggest that the “hand of evolution” had something to do with the spread of this mindset so that it would be everywhere on the planet as the guiding influence for the next leap in human evolution.

My recent resignation as artistic director of Chicago’s Remy Bumppo Theatre Company has decidedly struck a chord in this theater community with regard to the entrenched reticence to talk openly and candidly about matters of (and perceptions of) race relations between blacks and whites. This discordant dance of avoidance is not unique to Chicago, as evidenced by my body of experience as a practitioner of theater across America. A prolific freelance career wherein much of the time I’m engaged as the director for a theater company’s ethnic production in a given season. And while I absolutely treasure the relationships I’ve cultivated with artistic directors across the country—all of whom I know engage me first and foremost because of my talents as an artist—my resume tells a very precise statistical story, which ensures that my primary professional conversation consistently surround issues of race.

While it is true that my principal reason for moving on from Remy Bumppo was based on artistic differences, perspectives on race and culture did indeed factor into my decision. As part of my agreement in merging with the company, I inherited six longtime artistic associates—all actors, and all of whom are white (as is the entire board and staff). During the rehearsal, performance, and season planning processes it became abundantly clear that we had fundamentally differing ideas about effective leadership, and how to create stories for the stage.

 

The majority of mainstream American theater has built its reputation by producing highly literate Eurocentric plays, and as a direct result, the majority of mainstream American centers for actor training build their pedagogical paradigms upon Eurocentric principles.

 

a man looking at the camera
Timothy Douglas. Photo by Timothy Douglas. 

When pressed for details by the media and the genuinely curious here in Chicago on how race may have impacted my departure, I answer in this way: If you liken my creative-self to a gumbo, the specificity of my race and primary cultural influence is the equivalent of a dominant spice. Its presence is formidable, and yet its inherent function is to compliment and enhance the other ingredients. And though you can clearly taste and identify the specificity of the spice, once it has been added to the gumbo and allowed to simmer, it can never be extracted because it has fully blended itself into, through and around the other ingredients altering their nature forever. There were aspects of the “spice” I inherently bring to my work and leadership style that the prevailing palette at Remy Bumppo was unable or unwilling to digest.

The majority of mainstream American theater has built its reputation by producing highly literate Eurocentric plays, and as a direct result, the majority of mainstream American centers for actor training build their pedagogical paradigms upon Eurocentric principles. I had the good fortune of receiving my classical actor training at Yale School of Drama, and was blessed to do so during the tenure of Lloyd Richards, and counted as my primary acting teacher and mentor, the visionary Earle Gister (who just recently made his transition). In those days, one did not audition, but was simply cast in roles that the faculty felt would be best for the acting student to wrestle with at that point in their development. Of the thirty-three productions I performed in during my three years at Yale, only once was I cast in a leading role actually designated for a black man.

I’ll confess that I used to hold racial resentment about this until I had a revelation a few years back. It struck me that the most influential aspect of my training was in getting to deeply explore—by default—what it is to be “other,” while at the same time having to convey a genuine authenticity in each role. My white counterparts always got to “be white” without ever having to bring the concept of whiteness to conscious mind. They were allowed to simply build a character as part, and on top of who they innately were. In my acting I wasn’t playing “white” per se, but in each case I was most definitely (subliminally, but not subtlety) asked to suspend my innate “blackness” in order to accomplish the task at hand, and it was expected that I appear as authentic in my characterizations as my fellow actors who were melanin-challenged.

 

The most influential aspect of my training was in getting to deeply explore—by default—what it is to be “other,” while at the same time having to convey a genuine authenticity in each role.

 

My latent revelation lay in the fact that I actually received a phenomenally comprehensive exploration of cultural-craft at a depth far beyond those of my classmates, who rarely, if ever, were asked to explore outside of race and/or culture. Further, (if I’m to believe the assessment of my acting instructors) it actually makes me a more accomplished theater practitioner than my classmates because I succeeded in being able to authentically bring forth a living, breathing cultural-equivalence through craft. It’s why today I feel as confident in my approach to William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Beth Henley as I do when approaching Alice Childress, August Wilson, and Robert O’Hara … I know both creative worlds intimately and equally.

It is also why, when dragged into discussions about race and diversity in the theater, and the seemingly inexhaustible question surrounding “who has the right to tell whose story?” that I hold firm to a seemingly paradoxical double-standard of expressing full confidence and qualification in my directing the European classics, while holding suspect the motivation and abilities of my white counterparts when at the helm of an Afrocentric work. My objection isn’t across race lines, per se, and I am most definitely not saying that white directors should not direct black works—not at all. What I am standing up for is the integrity of storytelling itself, and insisting that the director possess the fundamental capacity to fully realize the foundational bottom layers of a culturally-specific work, and I don’t know how one does this effectively if one has not “lived” inside of it. I can tell you all about the properties of honey—its sweetness, stickiness, sensuousness of flavor, and its truly indescribable sensation on the tongue until blue in the face, but you will never “know” honey until you taste it!

In the recent case of the Broadway revival of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, I went on record defending every director’s right to helm any project they feel passionately drawn to, including Bart Sher—whom I consider to be a truly visionary, gifted, and accomplished director. As a colleague and admirer of his work, I fully defend every artistic choice he made on that production. Being said, I felt there were fundamental layers missing as a result of a basic misunderstanding of, or disregard for the cultural specificities inherent in that play. I had the benefit of having this discussion with some of the folks at Lincoln Center and remain clear that from the best of intentions one aspect of Mr. Sher’s appointment as the director was an act of a kind of diversity, which I can fully get behind. In my opinion, though, American audiences cannot yet claim they’ve seen so many productions of August Wilson’s plays directed by black directors that the time has now come for an interpretation or deconstruction of the work from a white perspective as the way of unearthing the deeper and nuanced meanings in the plays.

I do ultimately think it unreasonable to believe that the theater can or should be expected to satisfactorily and/or effectively address all the social ills of the world. For sure, part of our designated mission as its practitioners is to shed the light, ask the provocative questions, teach the hard lessons … and, oh yes—entertain. Still, the pressure is far too great to expect we can collectively bring forth meaningful paradigm shifts given the extremity of current world events. This is why I try and remember to regularly seek perspective by scrutinizing my work in the theater within the context of the world we currently live.

With regard to perceived differences, whites seem always to be looking to blacks for the answer to the “race problem.” The reason that black people so often appear to be frustrated about engaging in that dialogue is simply because we do not have the answer and are achingly weary of the question. The task remains for all of us as Americans to emerge from our psychic amnesia surrounding the unresolved legacy of slavery, and on a mass level finally admit that the ongoing conundrum between blacks and whites is a direct result of the overwhelming and desperate need for the healing of that festering wound—our shared former atrocity. Until the moment comes when there is a genuine attempt on the part of dominant culture to offer a symbolic apology on par, say, with the profound and prolific response to the Jewish Holocaust, we will continue to perpetuate the manufactured and ultimately imaginary rift between the races—on our stages and off.

 

The task remains for all of us as Americans to emerge from our psychic amnesia surrounding the unresolved legacy of slavery

 

The answer that whites are looking for is within themselves. If dominant culture could summon the integrity, grace, desire, and wisdom to “go inside” and get underneath that ancestral vibe that believed it was okay to enslave another people, all confusion about the nature of why and how blacks and whites have been relating to one another would be erased in that instant of revelation. I often wonder why this event has not yet happened? In turning the focus away from blacks to engage in their own soul’s search, do whites fear that we would rise up and engage in a massacre of retaliation? I happen to know the opposite would be true, because we as a people would be too busy enjoying the relief from all the scrutiny we’re perpetually under to provide answers we don’t have and have never had. Indeed we’d be too busy chillin’ with profound gratitude for the much needed break!

Perhaps this is the next phase of evolution that Dr. Thurman alludes to.  

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Sometimes, the question is more important than the perceived "answer". Timothy, with these words, the dialogue continues, and like a sweet summer breeze, the room is suddenly filled with sweet, breathable, unfettered air.

Timothy Douglas,I rarely if ever join in this kind of dialogue/debate on the net because it takes a lot of energy and rarely achieves anything. However, I find your position intriguing and in many ways provocative. It has at the least created a stir of response from many people, some of whom I know and have great respect for. I guess I would be correct in congratulating you on writing and posting the article that is getting so much attention. I mean, that is the point isn’t it, to get people’s attention, and you have done that. You got mine, that’s for sure. So, here we go. Let me start by stating I really disagree with, Dr. Thurman’s notion that somehow we benefitted in anyway from slavery. To suggest that being trapped in that institution allowed people around the world to know about our creativity, intuition, compassion, and forgiving mindset is ludicrous to me. African people were creative, intuitive, compassionate and forgiving long before being forced over here on those boats. I surely I’m not feeling any defense of slavery along those lines. It seems to me that it carries over to one being content being at a major University for three years, casted in thirty three plays, but only one that represented Black culture. Are we looking for excuses here? You, like most African Americans was able to make the best of a bad situation. Good for you. That does not make the bad situation right. Sorry not buying that. In 1999, in my final year in the graduate playwriting program at the University of Iowa, I was taking a Performance Theory class taught by Professor Kim Myra. There were over twenty white students in the class and four Blacks. Myself and Edris Cooper found ourselves constantly in a position where we had to inform our fellow students that theatre was not purely, Eurocentric but started in Eygpt, Ethiopia and West Africa long before Euripides, Sophocles and Aristotle. Our claims disturbed one white student so much that he stood on a chair at the end of class and screamed, “If you don’t like it (Western Theatre,) then maybe you should leave. Go! Just leave! I’m tired of hearing about you talk!” Well. I was calm. But, I asked him, “Where would he suggest I go?” When class was over I told him calmly to his face that he was a racist. My comment sent him into a rage, and he stormed off looking for someone to support him and condemn me, more like punish me. Later that day with tears in his eyes, he confessed what I already knew. He went to the department head and told her I called him a racist. She told him that he was, and he needed to accept that and deal with it. His answer was to come to me with crocodile tears, an apology and the question, “Can I help him not be a racist?” I told him under no circumstances could I with intent, help, coach, or teach him in that area. It’s just not my responsibility. Yes, the question, though well intended boarders on being offensive. So, you want me to endure your racist attitudes, overt and subversive, then teach you how not to be racist too? Wow! That’s a lot. When do I have time for myself, my family, my friends, my people? Nope, can’t spend time with the question. On Bart Sher directing August Wilson’s work. As an African American playwright who has had white directors it would be hypocritical to say that I’m against white directors. I am not. However, I do believe that August Wilson stated that he did not want white directors directing his work. I could be wrong but that is what I heard. Why should anyone go against his wishes? I don’t know, there is somewhat of a gray area there for me. But, to suggest that a white director would bring new insight and deeper meaning is insulting and beyond my comprehension. Really? I don’t mean to be insulting but am I hearing the benefits of slavery here? Wow! Lastly, one thing I have learned after years in theatre and film it’s clear to me that the majority culture truly doesn’t care. They don’t care if you get the role or not. They don’t care if our plays or movies are produced, or not. They don’t care how we feel about it either. I’m not saying that we should not pursue work in white theatres, or film and TV but to go in with some expectation that things are going to change, because people have a heart and see what we see is only setting oneself up for major disappointment. We have to get to that point where we have our own. That is the only answer, and even then we have a long, long way to go. The only thing slavery did for us, is screw us up horribly, and we are still recovering in 2012.

Levy Lee Simon

This is good. I appreciate the fact you bring this discussion to light. However, I think part of the problem is intrinsic in the fact America still points to this being a black/white issue. This is an issue that is across the board with all "minorities" and I quote that because minority is looked at as anything other than an WASP male (and no that's not male bashing). Until we realize that 1. This is not a black/white issue, this is a privilege/economic issue and 2. we, as minorities have the responsibility to create new stories we will never be beyond this. If we, as African Americans, can't get from underneath this suffocating history of slavery how can we expect anyone else to?

ditto bro' all the stuff we finally got to discuss. the legacy "of slavery" is real" niggas are scared of revolution" ( last poets said it so eloquently) i reserve most of my comments directly to you next time i see you, but this needs to be in american theatre magazine or something. people need to read this. thank you bro' i second what others have said. - Oj -

Gorgeous. Upsetting. True. The theatre has broken my heart many times by its narrow choices. As a woman, a gay woman, a Jewish woman over 50, I am, in ways both similar and distinctly different, part of your eloquent conversation.

What is "innate black" ---a good question. A comprehensive query is what does any of this shit mean? I sense a strong aversion to reality in these posts.. Lots of self delusion about language and its misuse. Facts are ignored and fantasies are fulfilled in the deep dark world of innate black.... American Theater is one of the pernicious and most formidable bastions of Western Cultural Imperialism.

Gumbo is a cute euphemism for integration on the chef's terms---. As along as Jesus remains blond haired and blue eyed (which he is) the notion of gumbo is surreal and our involvment in American Theater is a farce of unprecedented dimensions. Black theater artist are little less than hustlers on a whore's stroll...operating on a principle of diminished capacity.

Dear Timothy, Thank you for your excellent, arresting, and thought-provoking essay. Your gumbo image is brilliant--and will stay with me always, as the best wakeful analogies do.

When these transitions occur, allowing diversity to happen in our programming, dramatic shifts are seen in patrons and subscribers as well.

Today I was working at a mid-sized theatre company's box office in Chicago. A man stormed up to the box office desk after accosting our latino bartender and said, "How dare you have that filth on that stage? You people should be ashamed of yourselves!" Somewhere in the midst of his threats about canceling his subscription he said that he was offended by some word, but I couldn't hear him from the commotion in the lobby. I asked him to repeat himself and he replied, "If those niggers are allowed to say that word than so am I. Call me when those niggers are playing Hamlet."

Now this was wrong on many accounts:
1. If he found the word so offensive, why did he make a point to say it to the one latino worker and the one black worker?
2. If he wanted to see Hamlet, why did he subscribe to a new play theater? Didn't he research AT ALL? As a subscriber, didn't he have more information than anyone other than staff? This is a problem in the average person clumping all theater together which is another problem entirely.
3. The play is clearly about race in America today. This patron didn't hear the show and he didn't want to. The word "nigger" is barely mentioned.
4. By the way, this is not how "nigger" works. It's not some mathematic property where if the rule stands for one variable (or person), it's therefore true for another variable. Once again, that's a topic for another day.

Honestly, I didn't say anything back to him. I was shocked, frozen. I think all I did was wave and said, "See ya," as I looked between him and the door. My supervisor said, "You shouldn't have let him talk to you like that," and I honestly couldn't think of anything witty to say that balanced the line of defending myself and customer service representative. One minute later I was so angry that I was shaking. I wondered how my father and his friends got through the civil rights movement without being more violent.

We need to train our institutions to be more susceptible to diversification, but we also need to train our patrons. Being cultured doesn't mean that you know a lot about your own culture. It should mean that you are curious, knowledgeable, adaptable, and tolerant of other cultures.

P.S. Within the same shift, another subscriber asked, "Does this play have any white actors in it? I'm not going to be PC, I'm just gonna come out and say out. We saw a production at (large Chicago theatre) with color blind casting and it just didn't work..."

When did "political correctness" take the place of the word "sensitivity"?

@ Angela Tallis,It saddens me to see such willful ignoring of the painful reality that is ours as an artistic community let alone Americans. Don't be bogged down by whatever you consider to be his personal flaws and lets deal with the deeper and more important revelation.

Lots of high-flown, semi-hysterical language here about art, culture, society, race, etc. -- the big topics that are so reliably narcotic to small minds. But as Remy Bumppo Artistic Director, Mr. Douglas, you are both a theatre artist and a theatre entrepreneur. Former requires creative skills, the latter business skills, both skill sets being of equal weight.

Did you perform your due diligence concerning the nature of Remy Bumppo before accepting the position? I doubt it. Once accepted, did you know that the position required managing a group of people who had created a successful theatre with a unique identity in a tough urban market and would have strong ideas on the management style needed to maintain that success? That change, though possible and even desired, might take time? Require listening as well as talking?

A non-profit theatre, like a for-profit theatre, has to sell tickets. MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA and CHANGES OF THE HEART, both of which you agreed to direct and did, tanked with the audence. At which point you quit -- though the company tried to prevent your departure. You could have stayed on, retrenched, fought the good fight in your second season with a better understanding of what you were up against. Instead, like Achilles, you sulked in your tent -- though, unlike Achilles, you disdained to return to the fray. Sounds like false pride on your part. You can write all the posts on all the websites you like but none of that will change your resume, to which you have done irreparable damage.

Your future, I suspect, is your past: freelance directing and teaching. With diminishing returns.

Timothy, I want to add to the overwhelming appreciation and thank you's for sharing your truth. I believe what you are contributing to is what will be part of the mighty revolution that is unfolding for theater and (not disconnectedly) the world. This conversation is growing, brother- because of you and so many others. And in contrast to the sentiments expressed by Angela Tallis, I do believe your future will be full of returns, because what you have committed here is an indirect call-to-action. This post has contributed fuel to a growing fire. There are many who share your experiences, frustrations, and observations, who are ready to confront them publicly so that we may all be inducted into this campaign for change. It is a mathematical certainty that people of color will someday be the majority in this country, and our theater industry will suffer if it continues to operate under the assumption that the world is not changing. It absolutely is. If we don't drive our industry to change with the world, it will surely reach its demise. So I look forward to the positive movement that is rumbling beneath the concrete of our many sacred theater institutions. It will be a beautiful eruption. Thank you for your part....

As any good theater participant and story teller, the article has "provoked" conversation, which is the desired goal, in my opinion, like others with the same or a different opinion, may attest. If not, then it is obvious to me one does not like the story line, i.e. theater as a mechanism to provoke conversation about sometimes unwanted topics, black, white , punk, abstract, ritual, ect. I always say, if you do not like the storyline , write one, produce one, etc, you want people to hear, or see. I know. It will not be produced. Well we are playing in the western style commercial/merchantile arena that requires funds to present a work for a return on the investment. We have to sell tickets. So, if I am paying I might want the blue pill and not the red. The beat goes on, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the conversation via the comments. I could have read them all, but did not. I think I got the overall response to the storyline, which was well delineated and written with a certain gumbo flavor. Some folks like gumbo and some do not. They will have to search for, as we all do, the type of food for thought that is digestible to them, or all who are invited to the party. Otherwise, we will continually have indigestion. I guess we need a good cleanse. Peace

"..In it he focused on the mindset of the African people and how the creative center of their “being” developed, because of their closeness with nature and “the presence,” which they experienced everywhere and in every thing... "

Hello. I am not familiar with Dr. Thurman's work (yet) but I have always privately thought that one of the key ways that black people survived slavery in this country was our ability to connect with the land in a way that sustained us emotionally as well as physically. I have no idea why I thought this, it was instinctual I suppose. I sense that being close to nature allows one to be present and connected to something larger than oneself. Which in turn is healing and allows one to survive some horrible shit. I am Haitian, raised African American, and I can see in the land of my heritage the effects of devastation/death, if you are not connected to nature/presence, and of hope/life, when you are.

Thank you for making me aware of Dr. Thurman's lecture - I wonder if there is somewhere I could read it? Not sure about what the next step of evolution is, what it will look like, or what our role as people of color will play in it, but I doubt if we have much choice in the matter one way or another. Or do we?

Thanks again for your thought provoking and provocative article. I wish you well on the next step on your path and all future endeavors. namaste.

MARIE-FRANCOISE: I received the details of Dr. Thurman's lecture on 'the benefits of slavery' from a talk given by Dr. Michael Beckwith of Agape International Truth Center, and am still in the process of trying to find the original transcript. A wonderful introduction to Dr. Thurman's is his FOR THE INWARD JOURNEY, and here's a bit of what he's like 'in action': http://www.youtube.com/watc...

Thanks for the link and intro to Dr. Thurman's work! (although his words and cadence sound so familiar that I feel I must have known it without knowing I knew...) I may have to take a walk over to Agape. But while the lecture you suggested was insightful, what I have been listening to for the past few days over and over is his lecture "What Do You Want, Really?" I've even had friends listening to it! Yes, I'm kinda late to the party but definitely better later than never. To carry on my new found obsession here's the link to that lecture (at 3:05 is where he really starts to cook): http://www.youtube.com/watc... - ENJOY! namaste ~mf

People of African descent don't have the answer to racism because they didn't create the construct and are not the beneficiaries of the privilege inherent in its' perpetuation. I have said this time and time again. It is staggering in its' simplicity, yet a seemingly insurmountable task. Thank you Timothy, for giving life and breath to the truth of us just needing a break! And thank you also, for helping me to realize, again, that I must stop waiting to be given crumbs from the table.

Dear Brother Douglas

I'm surely not alone in expressing my gratitude to you for making the time to so clearly and artfully articulate some rock-hard truths about and deep understandings of the tentative nature of the Black presence--its function and vision--in Western theatre and culture.

Your words made one thing achingly and abundantly clear: we must create and revive our own work to speak our own truths to and for our own...and any others courageous or curious enough to listen. A righteous and thrilling call-to-arms if ever I heard one!

We do, indeed, have answers, but not ALL of them. Nor should we. We're not here alone. Those in the dominant culture must also do the hard work of answering and listening and learning; however, it's a daunting task for those in power who have little inclination to do so. Too few have the stomach, the heart, or the will though they have resources and opportunity enough. At this point in our country's history, it is not ignorance. It is denial.

I remind myself that we are only The Other--wondered or whispered about, misread or misused, demonized or dismissed--among the others. However, among our own, we are whole, we are full, we are authentic a priori. Not simple, not monolithic, but most certainly not malign.

The complexity, the richness of our whole selves--our lives, our beliefs, our fears, our dreams, our very hearts--is so rich, we could not ask for more. Nor need we ever look to others for inspiration or material since the Black presence is truly world wide and has ever been. Three-fourths of this planet is "peopled" with color and the oldest human bones were cradled in Africa. So there.

So, Brother Douglas, it seems you've managed to gift us, enrich us, and inspire with power sans title. Nice work! Perhaps your stop off at Remy Bumppo was merely to generate this glorious heat that's obviously set a many of us ablaze.

My thanks. Our thanks. Stay strong.

I hold firm to a seemingly paradoxical double-standard of expressing full confidence and qualification in my directing the European classics, while holding suspect the motivation and abilities of my white counterparts when at the helm of an Afrocentric work." Timothy this is the most humbling statement that every white director needs to take into consideration when they direct "Afrocentric" work. Do the work. Do the research. And even after that will they still have the abilities? It does not matter to the theatre owners or artistic directors. It's frustrating to go into the audition room for Black plays and time after time over and over again and see that the director is white with little to no experience in Black Culture. It's sad but true. Glad to see you are talking about it here! xo, Yvette

Brother Timothy,

I'm surely not alone in expressing my gratitude to you for making the time to so clearly and artfully articulate some rock-hard truths about and deep understandings of the tentative nature of the Black presence--its function and vision--in Western theatre and culture.

Your words made one thing achingly and abundantly clear: we must create and revive our own work to speak our own truths to and for our own...and any others courageous or curious enough to listen. A righteous and thrilling call-to-arms if ever I heard one!

We do, indeed, have answers, but not ALL of them. Nor should we. We're not here alone. Those in the dominant culture must also do the hard work of answering and listening and learning; however, it's a daunting task for those in power who have little inclination to do so. Too few have the stomach, the heart, or the will though they have resources and opportunity enough. At this point in our country's history, it is not ignorance. It is denial.

I remind myself that we are only The Other--wondered or whispered about, misread or misused, demonized or dismissed--among the others. However, among our own, we are whole, we are full, we are authentic a priori. Not simple, not monolithic, but most certainly not malign.

The complexity, the richness of our whole selves--our lives, our beliefs, our fears, our dreams, our very hearts--is so rich, we could not ask for more. Nor need we ever look to others for inspiration or material since the Black presence is truly world wide and has ever been. Three-fourths of this planet is "peopled" with color and the oldest human bones were cradled in Africa. So there.

So, Brother Douglas, it seems you've managed to gift us, enrich us, and inspire with power sans title. Nice work! Perhaps your stop off at Remy Bumppo was merely to generate this glorious heat that's obviously set a many of us ablaze.

My thanks. Our thanks. Stay strong.

Timothy, thank you for clearly articulating (on so many levels) what I have been trying to communicate in post show discussions for many years now!!

Timothy, your ideas, perceptions, experience, knowledge and fundamental understanding expressed here is so powerful. It has me thinking and relating in new ways in a stream of thought i often dip my toes and hands and heart. Not only will i pass this along via PF channels, but also to others, not in the theater per se, for whom it will motivate. Thank you, and hope to hear more, anon!

Timothy, this was one of the most profound and inspired writings I have read on the topic and really sums up so much for so many. Please submit to American Theatre magazine and the NY Times. This manifesto needs to reach far beyond our circle. Thank you.

Timothy, a good friend shared your article, which I have found so fascinating I will share it with my class of a 100 Freshman in the fall (Theatre in Western Culture at Wright State University where I am chair of Dept of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures for 18 year). Miraculously, I spent an afternoon with Howard Thurman in San Francisco back when I was studying theology across the bay in Berkeley. Truly a remarkable, astonishing man. A profound man of faith who also said something to the effect that he reserved the right in on his deathbed, to say that all that he believed, was not true. It's stuck with me .... to have a profound sense of humor about it all.

"...I hold firm to a seemingly paradoxical double-standard of expressing full confidence and qualification in my directing the European classics, while holding suspect the motivation and abilities of my white counterparts when at the helm of an Afrocentric work." I agree. After 10 years of being a white woman married to a black man, I know that he grew up knowing far more about white people than I did about black people. I also think it's disrespectful for white people to assume they can direct plays by people of color, given how appropriative white people have been for so long.

"A prolific freelance career wherein much of the time I’m engaged as the director for a theater company’s ethnic production in a given season."

This reminds me of one thing that absolutely drives me crazy about white theaters. They put on an "ethnic" play, "ethnic" audiences come to see it. Then they put on their white plays, and white audiences come to see them. Then they complain about how theater is universal and ethnic audiences should come to their shows!

And the evidence to the contrary is staring them in the face, if they'd just look.

When this topic came up in conversations, I'd always defer to a person of color to reply. But then someone (thank you, Caleen!) pointed out that white people will hear some things better from other white people. So now I speak up.

So profoundly poetic and Clear! Thank you Sir Timothy for once again demonstrating behavior I can admire and try on for size. This is invaluable to me as a young, Black practictioner of American Theater. You have articulated feelings I began to have when, in 7th grade, I assumed the role of "the only black male in my class". From Carnegie Mellon's School of Drama to involvement in budding American "Theater Collectives" I continue to play this role. Let me tell you, the conversations and events this role experiences is enough to fuel the fire of succesa for the next award-winning Reality TV Show! But---- Now, after reading your healing words.... I am breathing easier and deeper... Knowing I don't have to come up with an answer I never had in the first place. This is truly empowering. Yes, indeed, we would be Smooth Chillin, Floatin in a Deep Sea of Gratitude Fo Sho-- City of Bones dancing beneath us in celebration. Thank you. Thank you for this. Thank You for You.

Timothy! I'm on wya to New York to do a workshop with Ty Jones and The Classic Theatre of Harlem. But I had to stop by here first and read about you. I got to this part, "If you liken my creative-self to a gumbo, the specificity of my race and primary cultural influence is the equivalent of a dominant spice. Its presence is formidable, and yet its inherent function is to compliment and enhance the other ingredients." And, that was enough for me for now. Chile you KNOW I'm a Creole mama and whenever Gumbo comes up I get excited. Honey, Gumbo would not be what it is without that special ingredient: The File, the Sassafrass! Yup. Do your thing I love ya! xo, Yvette

The black person has historically carried the burden of scapegoated Other, merely by physical differences he/she has carried (made all the more complex by miscegenation , but that's another discussion). Therefore white society has never been forced to look within like black society has had to do, nor have they been forced to absorb, imitate and understand that same white majority because of pure survival (imagine, for example if the slaves had not understand every nuance of the masters' behavior). This, as James Baldwin so eloquently states in so many of his brilliant essays, is what has made the predominant white culture such a shallow thing for the most part. Or rather, an incomplete thing. For until this country realizes not only how much black and white people need each other, but are in reality, historically and psychologically a part of each other, we ALL will suffer.

Well Tommy at least you're not touting the benefits of beng a victim of your tormentors. You actually have a world view that suggest a new roadmap through uncharted terrritories. While understanding, the map is not the territory. Be parient, the old order thinks it is doing good because it grows fat on its own carcass. This is a new centruy. The dinosaurs are dying. New life forms will emerge, this is the LAW...

The problem may be deeper - and different - than just the race issue. I am a playwright. The kind of work I compose is violent, challenging, unconventionally structured, and critical of upper middle class white values. Being a white person, my disgust with the culture to which I have been assigned bleeds through in my work. But this perspective is a major obstacle to getting this work produced at venues whose dominant subscriber base are members of the white upper middle class. In order to not get deeply offended by this, I have been trying to think of theatre using an analog of music. My plays are punk rock. Why would I expect punk rock to play in a venue that only presents classical music? This is not even a conversation in the music world; some venues are right for certain work. Remy Bumppo is not interested in presenting hip-hop; nor is it a suitable venue for punk rock. A quick glance at Remy's season (Marivaux, Blessing, O'Neill) makes it clear that this is a venue whose bandwidth is constricted to Sousa marches and James Taylor imitators. Why the hell would I want to play my punk rock there? The audience would turn its nose up at it. The long and the short? Seek venues that will love the music you play. And give no energy to the symphony when it refuses to present a double bill of Dead Kennedys and Public Enemy.

"The reason that black people so often appear to be frustrated about engaging in that dialogue is simply because we do not have the answer and are achingly weary of the question."

I really beg to differ on this position.--we do have an answer. Stop using us and our homeland to enrich your life at the exspense of our resources. The only benefit of slavery accrued to the slavemaster and his endless generations of Pax Americana. American Theater is a "Big White Fog" and the Black practicioner is inherently invisible in this 'mist opportunity. White people run everything and along with theater, it appears they will run it in the hole. Black people need to get honest about our role in their society: we are chattel and not decison makers. We are resoources, not the executives who utilize but are utilized. Whites like it like this and are not ever going to gleefully or willingly change this relationship. It is the lowest depth of racial insanity to think for one instant, we accrued any benefit from slavery.

We were despite the hype, not brought here for our benefit, but for theirs, and the history of our involvment in American Theater is a painful realizaiton of this fact. White peeps need to lighten up and Black peeps need to tighten up.

Timothy, your reflections are so timely, deeply interrogated and valuable to me personally. I truly hope to see more and more artists of color in leadership roles in the American theater. What your article has reminded me of is the marvelous fact that leadership is not necessarily related to a job title (there are plenty of leaders of theaters who are not in fact leading with vision), but rather, it is rooted in a person's will and courage to speak the truth against all odds, to serve as a beacon to others, that we may have clearer vision and direction. It's an incredible reminder that I will cherish.

Timothy, this testament is a breath of honest and necessary air. I applaud and embrace you for the type of truth that should reshape all of us into radical theater practitioners—willing to face our truths, discuss our realities and turn American theater into an institution that impacts and changes all of us. What's interesting about your post is that only 30 minutes ago Viola Davis stood before a very white SAG audience and said: "lifting the burden of racism and sexism is all of our responsibilities." What a night and thank you!

PROFESSOR DOUGLAS!!!!!! Thank you so much for turning the light on and speaking to the constantly avoided elephant that looms large in Chicago (most definitely) and beyond.This conversation becomes even more critical as we engage a culture/climate that believes itself to be post racial, but with every racial swipe at our black president it becomes evident that we are not post racial and the hard conversations that yearn to be had are swept under the rug of denial and recalcitrance. THANK YOU FOR SOUNDING THE ALARM!!!!