A Response to Timothy Douglas

I want you to be uncomfortable—at least some of the time. Muckraker Finley Peter Dunne wrote, “It is our business… to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Timothy Douglas’ eloquent, honest and provocative post about identity through his lens as a black male American director has spurred me to write. Each and every one of us has a right, perhaps even an obligation to tell a story beyond our lived experience. Not at the exclusion of others who claim ownership to tell their version, but in addition. To tell a story to even one listener is a place of relative privilege, for there are those among us to whom no one ever listens.

I concur with Mr. Douglas, that to be an “other” is to know the dominant culture more thoroughly than the dominant culture knows of an “other.”

Despite our cultural differences, my soul connects with James Baldwin's Another Country precisely because his words echo my own sense of otherness, and mirrors my rage against the confines of a hetero-normative patriarchal culture.

On the oft-asked “who has the right to tell whose story,” Mr. Douglas writes:

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…. 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.

At first, a Yes escaped my lips. Then I felt the walls close in, for who is this arbiter of authenticity?

How do we know what we are meant to discover or illuminate if we do not risk crossing a threshold? It will assuredly not serve any of us if we do not encourage and enhance storytellers from the periphery to take center stage.

Is there a method to measure one’s understanding of the mindset of another? Are we limited by our given circumstances from deeply comprehending any or all things outside our lived experience? The lives of white men dominate multiple canons, have I not walked so many miles in their shoes as to think I might know them, might tell their stories? Mr. Douglas writes he is equally comfortable directing August Wilson as Beth Henley. After wondering about his experiences “living inside” Henley’s white southern women in Crimes of the Heart, I consider if he knows it as thoroughly as director Lear DeBessonet, a white southern woman? The thing is, he may; Ms. DeBessonet seems distant from Henley’s three sisters and closer to Chekhov’s Three Sisters. An external identity may not resemble the person within.

I am going to continue to write experiences far outside my own. Are boundaries so fixed that Kate Whoriskey (white) is not experientially qualified to direct Lynn Nottage's Ruined about women and male soldiers in Congo, a play that also references Bertolt Brecht's (male, white, German) Mother Courage? Would a Congolese female director have been a more authoritative choice? I wrote my play In Darfur about the genocide there because I had an inside track (columnist Nicholas Kristof was my boss) early on about the atrocities and I didn’t want to be a bystander. In Darfur is most assuredly not the authority on that genocide and anyone is free to write their own version, aren't they? Or might one argue if Lynn (African-American, female) or Winter (European-American, female) writes a play about Congolese or Sudanese:

a) one of us has a more legitimate birthright to tell the story
b) someone Congolese or Sudanese is the best candidate to tell any story from their respective region
c) it's too thorny, no one should write beyond what they have lived or can prove (to what or whom?) to understand deeply.

Consider the measure of authentic identity and whom you trust to be the arbiter in the communities and alliances we create.

Let us not simply say, write, direct, play, teach what you know, but instead ask, what if we look collectively and individually at all "others" and explore? By the rationale of experience, we might find ourselves confined to creating only what others assume we know, and what would that encompass given the complexity of humanity? We would be expected to dream within our own lived experience, which as Mr. Douglas illustrates, has professionally often tethered him to direct the “ethnic” play in a whitewashed season. (Is the “ethnic” play defined by the writer, the story, the protagonist or elements of each?) Can Mr. Douglas or I live inside the mind of a Korean man? A Palestinian woman? An adult with a second grade education, with few hopes and dreams? If not, what should any of us do—abdicate or seek to understand and be willing to make mistakes in the process?

There are days I don't feel qualified or compelled to tell the stories I have lived, much less try to imagine myself into the life of another human. How do we know what we are meant to discover or illuminate if we do not risk crossing a threshold? It will assuredly not serve any of us if we do not encourage and enhance storytellers from the periphery to take center stage. In what ways, small or large can each of us follow the Civil Rights credo of Lifting as We Climb?

Another day, we’ll get into the complexity the legacy that motto from the National Association of Colored Women raises. For along with our duty to uplift, can we make room to embrace and tell complicated, nuanced portraits that illuminate our protagonist’s heroism and flaws without being branded a traitor?

Mr. Douglas and I may agree, may disagree, but we cannot deny our educational privilege has brought us to this forum where we speak in a common language. This privilege is wrapped up in a matrix of variables—class, race, citizenship, mental health, physical ability, gender, sexuality, community, and expectations of ourselves from within and externally. For each of us, it takes a lot of inner work to claim our own power, even in places we personally or institutionally feel oppressed.

The questions we ask ourselves—if we are honest—are not comfortable. The beauty, the ache and the longing live in the discomfort. We rely on each other to remind us of our blind spots and our relative privilege within a given group. We lean on each other for the strength to look within with compassion as we make mistakes, as we harm others and ourselves. It does not come easy. Sometimes it does not come at all.

I admire Mr. Douglas’ clarity and courage to speak the truth. It is the same and it is different from mine. I appreciate the privilege of participating in this dialogue of sorts, there are many today who will rise without food, protection or safety and for whom comfort such as mine—to read and respond freely from a place called home— is beyond reach. Like us, they too have a story to tell.

The views above are my own and do not reflect those of the people mentioned.

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Erika, Thank you for this, a must-read for all participants in theater. Reminds me of the necessity of self-responsibility and self-awareness plus a consciousness of others-which we can only hope to advance by asking, reading, and listening. I so admire you Erika, for what you've written here and for your extraordinary talents as an actor. I was privileged to work with Erika for In Darfur at Theater J, for which she delivered a stunning performance and earned herself a Helen Hayes. In other words, people, work with this woman, she's the real deal. Winter

I'm speaking from an actors point of view on this. I've been in a few shows over the last five years that have dealt with race on some level. I'm a black woman. I've been directed by black and white directors, men and women both. I've had great experiences, mediocre experiences and really bad experiences. The thing that creates the "really bad experience," when being directed by a white director, as far as I can tell, is whether or not the director is able to open up a dialogue with the actors that continues throughout the process. If I had to name one thing that I'd like to see change, it would be that. That's the biggest issue I've had. You'd be surprised how often conversations about race don't happen. You'd be surprised how often white directors don't ask, but tell you what you're thinking or doing in any given moment. Sometimes they don't ask or say anything at all, which, for me, is worse.

I've started to believe that white people don't actually have to deal with issues of race if they don't want to. Even if the play is called THAT RACE PLAY, you can find a way to focus on everything else but. Race can be a footnote in your process. You can choose not to have a discussion about it. You can choose not to ask actors how they feel about a certain moment or what's going on for them. You can assume you know. You can assume you're a liberal and totally open and assume you get it. You can assume that my being black is all I need to play the character. "Do your black experience thing. Your instincts are probably right. I couldn't possibly know. I wouldn't pretend to know." or "I don't have anything I could add to this. What could I give this actor to enrich what they're doing?" I've never actually asked any directors (that I've taken issue with) what the reasons were for their not dealing with race, so I really don't know why it happens. Is it because they didn't think it was important? Is it that they didn't want to or know how to have a conversation about race? I dunno.

My husband is white. He's a director. He has directed numerous plays that are outside of his experience. I'll leave it up to the actors to give him a "grade" on his awareness, cultural sensitivity, open dialogue, and his ability to bring their wealth of cultural knowledge to bear. I personally think he's good at what he does and I say that mostly because he asks questions. He doesn't know everything and he doesn't pretend to know.

Maybe some directors don't deal with actors of color very well because they don't want to look like they don't know. "Don't ask lest your ignorance be made known." It's okay not to know! Some would argue with me on that point. I mean, do your research and all, but your biggest charge will be to ASK.You HAVE to ask. Even if all your friends are people of color or minorities that doesn't mean you know. No matter how much research you do or how close you might feel to the material, you have to ask.

White directors aren't going to stop directing plays outside of their cultural experience. It's going to increase. As amazing writers of color continue to rise to the top, tell engaging stories, become commercial successes and show us things we've never seen, theater's are going to want to be a part of that. It's great. It makes me happy. But it doesn't mean that theatre companies or directors are equipped with the cultural knowledge or sensitivity to handle this next wave of change. I'm not saying it means they shouldn't produce a play they feel strongly about. I'm saying they need to be actively aware and critical of how they handle the play and the actors. You don't have to be scared of fucking up. You have to be aware and willing to learn, change, adapt and implement something new.

I'm suggesting that, as predominantly white theatre companies begin to move more boldly and confidently in the direction of plays outside of their experience, that there needs to be a new standard of dialogue. This dialogue needs to include artists of color. It should be a collaboration in the true sense of the word. White staff members (artistic and otherwise) and actors of color need to be vocal and in dialogue about what's going on throughout the entire process and challenge the things that aren't quite right or dead wrong.

The times I've felt ignored, misunderstood, that a director doesn't know what to do with me, what to say to me, or how to guide me has been because they won't talk to me or ask me what's going on. Talk to me like you would any actor for starters. Ask me questions about motivation, obstacles, what I'm doing and what I want, just like you would any actor in any play. Characters in a play are characters in a play. There's no great mystery, really. The basics don't change. You don't need to talk to actors of color in a different way. But you must practice the art of asking questions so that the moments you don't understand can be illuminated and broadened all of us. You increase the possibility of greatness when you collaborate and use what you've got in front of you. I might know more about my experience than you, but my experience isn't enough. Plays need examination. They deserve a healthy curiosity from everyone involved.

What if a director decided to start, not with what they knew, but with what the actors knew and felt. I mean, have your first rehearsal speech and all. Talk to everyone about what you think the story is about, what you think the play is saying and why you're excited about the play, but soon after that it might be a good idea to ask the actors what they think. You have to create an atmosphere of dialogue and that doesn't just happen on its own. Your actors have to feel heard before you start telling them what YOU think it is. You have to build trust first.

And directors shouldn't wait for their actors to bring things up. Engage your company. We cant forget the hierarchy we work within. People need permission to say what's on their minds. It's your job to create an environment where people feel safe enough to speak honestly. None of us can expect fruitful dialogue unless we are intentional about what we want to accomplish and talk about. We must be purposeful. If we're as progressive as we think we are, then we won't be afraid to deal with the task at hand. The theatre is no special haven of racial harmony. We are all of the world. No one is exempt from needing to examine themselves, listen and grow.

Just because nobody has said anything to you yet about how you work with actors of color or how your theatre treats actors of color, doesn't mean issues don't exist. For a person to have the courage to name something that isn't right in their workplace is huge. Nobody wants to be difficult or labeled as "that paranoid asshole who's always bringing up race."

The truth is, nobody has to listen to you. There's no clause in my contract that says a theatre company has to change how they deal with me, open up and continue a dialogue, engage me or make me feel valued as a collaborator. A theatre company can choose to hear criticism and act, ignore it and do nothing or give lip service and never hire you again. Telling a director that they're being insensitive, unaware, or offensive could be the 'end of you. It's a risk you take when you stand up for what you think is right in any field. But in the theatre, because actors of ALL colors feel disempowered in general, having these kinds of conversations is an uphill battle.

Silence about stuff like this doesn't help anyone. My silence in moments where I've felt marginalized surely didn't do anything for my performance, the director, the theatre company, the audience or my integrity. I said to my husband a few days ago, that "I finally understand what people mean when they say they always seem to be the ones who have to bring up race. It's always my responsibility to talk about it even though it should be EVERYONE's responsibility." I told my husband that "It's not my job to educate anyone. Educate yourself!" He paused, then paraphrased a quote by James Baldwin. I just looked it up. “The relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others in order to end the racial nightmare and acheive our country.” -JB.

I sighed. It's my charge. I'll fail at times, but I can't just give up. It is my responsibility. I hope it becomes everyones responsibility.

Creating cultural ghettos benefits no one. Contemporary white American directors have more in common with contemporary black Americans, and vice versa, than with the societies of ancient Greece, Elizabethan England, Louis XIV's France, 19th century Norway. Yet those white directors, and their black counterparts, are perfectly capable of directing Sophocles, Shakespeare, Moliere, Ibsen. A black director may or may not respond more to August Wilson than a white director. So what? Directing is much, much more than being simpatico. Suppose an Irish American Catholic might respond more to Eugene O'Neill but that does not diminish Sidney Lumet's LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT one iota.

Winter, I just wanted to simply say that your expression of your truth in this writing has been an instrument of permission for me to now write outside of my life experience as I embark on the creation of my one woman show. As I create these characters, it is from a place of my imagination but I also wonder if it is also not the deepest kind of connection I could have to "other". Thank you.

Winter, I really appreciated the thought and sensitivity you've given to a topic that I've also struggled with in recent memory.

Here are some quick thoughts I'm left with after reading:

It seems clear that as an "other," one has both the misfortune and fortune to know the dominant culture in a way that the dominant culture most often does not know him or her, so Douglas "holding firm" to his double standard seems justified to an extent.

Yet, as your blog points out, the definition of what constitutes one's "otherness" and whether this can be understood in varying degrees shows that the issue is far more complex than Douglas's comment might initially suggest, and it seems less healthy to argue over who deserves to tell a story and more productive to look for stories that need telling.

Previously I worked as Anna Deavere Smith's assistant and co-curated a symposium with her, in which I had the pleasure of conversing with South African playwright Yael Farber. In one conversation, Yael said to me that rather than worrying about what stories she feels she needs to tell, she searches for stories that need someone to tell them. In this way, she describes her writing as more of an artistic translation than as simply an individual artistic endeavor.

In the end, your conclusion seems valid: as writers and directors, we must risk exploring lived experiences different from our own with the proper amount of sensitivity and research required. But how do we decide whether one has been sensitive to all of the complex societal undercurrents in any given situation? I suppose that's for each individual critic / audience member to decide, and yet to not take the risk because of the fear of being negatively criticized seems to be far more harmful in the long-run. If we understand our work as creating a dialogue, educated criticism is a valid part of that dialogue. So I think your conclusion seems to be the best solution (and I use that word with a great deal of hesitation) to a problem that must be understood and re-examined case by case, writer by writer, story by story ad infinitum. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

As a playwright, I selfishly like to create outside the limitations of what I think I know and what I am comfortable creating. For me, there's always a moment of inspiration involving the discovery of experience that was unknown and foreign before that moment, whether it is a moment of recognition with a person or character who is "foreign" or a person or character I thought I knew intimately. The act of putting a life and someone's identity on stage is both compassionate and cruel; it involves sharing with an audience as much as it anticipates putting a character's thoughts and actions on the chopping block. I guess it's all in the execution and reception-- I would hope that artists and audiences alike accept that there is so much we don't know about each other. Hell, about ourselves. If we're never willing to learn about (and from) other points of view, we will never grow. Grow into better people, grow into better communities. Learning always has a curve and that curve is rarely comfortable-- it's an uneasy passage from assuming truths to truths exposed. There will always be those two sides to the mirror. The side in which we see ourselves and others reflected, and the side that does not reflect and we can never consciously know.

I was taking a break from reading Dave Eggers' "What Is The What" and came upon your dialogue with Timothy Douglas. There is such beauty and stunning devastation in the collaborative authoring of the book by Eggers, a white American and Valentino Achack Deng, "A lost boy" that it speaks to me the way you do, Winter. And also brings to mind Eric Foner's collection of essays "Who Owns History?"You quote Baldwin and so does Foner on the inside book cover. We carry within us a good many "others" and their history and what they teach us as well as what we know, what we encounter, how it comes through us to make its way to the page. The many voices accrue and layer by layer we become more.

Dear Winter and all,

Wow, I have to say I love your mind and perspective! Yes, who indeed has ownership or the authority of experience? I love the question, maybe the "answer" like many things will have to be a process and hopefully a dialogue.

Thanks so much for your work!Love,Bill

Winter,

You were not a Darfurian, but you wrote a moving play about Darfur.

When I was a young man wanting to write, I was told to "write what you know," or "write from your own experience."

Terrible advice. How many great works of art were stillborn because of that guidance?

If a story can only be told by those who know the story, have lived it---then who of us could write about the birds, as we are unable to fly

Yet I have flown. So have you.

No one "owns" a story, no one has primacy over a story, and there is no such thing as a false story, because every story I tell is true as I see it, and I see it as no one else on this globe sees it. Imagination is not for sale, and cannot be bought or rationed.

All stories are partly false, partly true. It is our job as the reader to ferret out what is the truth of a story to us, just as what we choose to carry away from that story to use in our daily lives.

The question that matters is: does the story move me? Not: does the writer move me? It's the classic question: How shall we tell the dancer from the dance? For me, I see the dance. I do not need to know who the dancer is, where she grew up, what her color is, what her sexuality is, what her bona fides are. I saw the dance, and that was all I needed to see.

Neither age, nor sex, nor race, nor class means that I have lived my age, my sex, my race or my class. No one "earns" a story by having lived something similar. In fact, sometimes being close to a story means you can't really see it for what it is.

Stories are out there for whomever gives them a home.

Winter, please continue to write about whatever the heck you want, in or out of your experience.

I don't think Timothy Douglas was talking about the right to tell a story beyond our lived experience, but about the POWER of those able to spread those stories... I can relate to his remarks as an Eastern European playwright who started to write/study in English after she had seen "our" stories (I mean specifically stories of Romanian characters and historical events) regularly gaining prominence when told/written by Western writers. See Carol Churchill's brilliant play Mad Forest about the Romanian revolution. So yes, of course we can all tell stories of any kind of people. Human experience is shared and similar on a deep level. But is any American/Western theatre really trying to find good Romanian plays about the Romanian revolution or just take from the shelf the famed Carol Churchill play if they want to produce something about revolutions in Eastern Europe? Let's face it, the answer is no, they just go for the Western play well known to white Western audiences. It's a great play, yes, it's a masterpiece. But has anyone really looked for masterpieces written by Romanian writers? And which is the artistic standard for defining a masterpiece? It's the Western one, of course.Oh yes, smaller theatres do a Romanian or Bulgarian or Turkish, or whatever other international play once in a while, putting it in the spicy "international" box of the repertory, like they put in some "meaningful" little boxes African-American or other "minority" plays.American mainstream theatre is arguably shaped on a white Western upper middle class experience which does allow for some diversity but diversity shouldn't be "allowed", it should happen organically in a society that's truly inclusive in regards to race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, etc. I think that Timothy was speaking along the same lines, of course bringing his personal gumbo in, while I bring my Romanian polenta :)

Winter, thanks for this post. You make valid points, however, I feel the bigger issue in the conversation about who can write what is the problem with opportunity. The black story has often been told by white writers (sometimes well, sometimes not so well), but there are many black stories written by black writers that never see the light of day because of racist ideas within institutions about the legitimacy and viability of the black voice. I'm not sure if people are overlooking this truth, or if they're wired not to see it, but it is a real fact and a fact that impacts many writers of color. So yes, good storytelling is paramount and people should be able to give testament to what and how they see the world, but until the lack of opportunities for writers of color remain due to racist notions about viability, the issue of authenticity and representation will remain. No one is directly attacking a writer's right to craft stories outside of their intimate experiences, but as long as writers of color are shut out of institutional opportunities and have to watch other writers get momentum or celebrated for telling stories that often are mined from another's cultural experience, then you'll have people who will question license and authenticity. Please, let's not forget this is far deeper than simply your right to write what you want. This is also an institutional issue regarding the equal distribution of opportunity.

Thanks everyone who has posted here. Keith, I agree with you 100% that there is a serious institutionalized issue of inequity when it comes to writers of color, but I happen to know you're a very good writer and if your next play produced is about an experience far from your own, but still on the margins I would want you to do that play--the one your heart is in. You might be depriving another writer of the exact story or group you're talking about. You would definitely be denying the scores of other writers who didnt get the spot you got. But does that mean that you should give your spot up to the writer who has written the play that is "more authentic" because the writer is a member of that group particular group you're writing about? This definition of authentic based on lived experience seems to limit everyone, you included, and that's the point Im getting at. If the mindset is that we all are most authentic when telling the story we've lived, we have a very narrow focus. Additionally, that calls into question who is the arbiter of authenticity. Does Ntozake Shange have a right to write For Colored Girls any more than you do because while you are both black people, it's told from the perspective of women of color? You both have the right to write it, I don't know whether we agree on that. Once its written, should the better play win the spot or should the play that is deemed more authentic because one writer is seen as closer to the subject than the other based on gender? Based on race? Where does the issue of opportunity come in, should Ms. Shange get the slot because she's got more name recognition than you? Or should you get it because you're a new voice and you also need a home? For me, the question is not that there is an either/or about choosing between who has a right to the slots and who is the most authentic writer. I've said it publicly before and I'll say it again, I think there should be quotas while institutions get their act together and even out the color lines so that the pipeline of plays coming in and the pipeline of plays being produced reflects the pool of writers submitting plays as well as the appetites of a more diverse audience. I think all theaters should take 3-5 seasons and program their season by quota and see what happens--what kinds of plays will they attract and how will that change their understanding of what audiences are hungry for? Perhaps the quota would reflect the population in a particular area (using census data--which is admittedly flawed). But looking at who's in the audience as a means of determining the diversity of a potential audience is flawed, audiences often show up to see work that reflects their own experiences so that's a chicken and egg argument until you start really programming for a broader audience than a monolithic white experience. But Keith, if you're expected to write the experience of a man of color in your plays then your imagination and freedom to write has a restriction that might limit you from writing whatever it is that is given in your heart at a given moment. I think we all bear the responsibility of creating more opportunities for marginalized voices and performers but I think we also all bear the responsibility of broadening our minds away from expectations that a writer is going to be the voice of her or his people. A writer of any race may want to write plays outside of their experience, so while this is an important artistic freedom, this goes hand in hand with us as audiences supporting work that comes from groups denied a consistent voice in mainstream venues and continuing to suggest work by ethnically and racially diverse writers to Artistic Directors and staff. There's a group that was started on Meetup.com called Works by Women and its mission as I have experienced it is to tell audiences about works by women and to act as a bloc to get audiences in seats by offering group discounts. I do not disagree with you, there is a grave lack of equality within the American theater and its imperative we all work to promote and encourage a broad(er) range of voices. We know people of color are writing and are writing beautiful plays and we know that those plays aren't produced with a frequency that is deserved and important. The fact that you've started New Black Fest and you actively help bring black voices to the stage and alert people when there are great plays by black writers being produced is clearly part of the solution. What keeps us from picketing theaters that don't change with the times? What keeps us from boycotting them and choosing only to see plays they produce by writers of color and/or women? We can put our money where are hearts and mouths are. If 50 or 100 of us stood outside a theater with signs about equality, sooner or later we'd get some press coverage. I am guilty of saying I want artistic directors to create change from the top down and not backing them up with an ongoing campaign that holds them publicly accountable. How do we choose to expend our resources and time--making the art or talking about how we want to increase access? I would be curious to hear other suggestions about how we as a community can level the playing field. Personally, I think an industry-wide Title 9-like approach to soliciting and producing plays by quota is a compelling experiment. People shudder at quotas, but that's because they assume that means the quality of the work will suffer--I guarantee for every play by a white person produced this season there is a work just as good or better by a writer of color. It would still be merit based, which plays are picked. I'm that sure that there are plenty of amazing plays by people of color and women, that I don't have misgivings about calling for quotas. Affirmative Action is not a dirty term, it says an institution is committed to leveling the playing field. As an audience member, I want to hear a good story. I think change is a multi-pronged approach and that encouraging all writers to write beyond our experiences while also holding theater staffs' feet to the fire about the necessity to broaden their demographics of all artists--writers, directors, actors, etc.. What do we know from the civil rights, women's and gay movements about how to create lasting change? It takes more than a village to create this kind of change, it takes a lot of people standing up for a long time in order to attract notice. It takes boycotts and smart consumerism, as well as letter writing and a consistent presence where people can be seen protesting and can garner attention. What if all writers went on strike until a list of demands going forward was met? Would it be a disaster or would it wake Artistic Directors up to a movement? Is the Occupy Wall Street movement a useful example of how to create attention around a vast inequity? And for those of you lovely souls who have spoken to me about wanting to respond to this posting but not wanting to get into the fray, or not wanting to take the time to post, I appreciate the arguments you've raised and think we would all benefit by you putting them here. I'm tempted to list you by name, to goad you, but I'll spare you that public display. The comments and responses are scattered in emails, facebook posts and phone conversations, maybe if it's posted here someone will put forth some great suggestions about how we want to create and shape the kind of theater community that addresses our expectations and visions for increased inclusivity. If you're shy about posting in public, just put your first name, your email remains private. If you're concerned about repercussions in the community for posting your opinion and your post is not full of base allegations and slander, mention it to the moderator, that you'd like a pseudonym, maybe the rules can be bent for whistleblowers to retain anonymity (I can't promise, just a thought. I am not suggesting this turn into a complaint or venting forum, but if you've got some ideas about how to create reform, I would like to hear them.

winter, your response is beautifully written. interestingly enough there is a similar issue in being a therapist. for example, if i have not been sexually abused by a relative, how can i help someone who has. i believe that there are those who can cross into different places and get what it is like to be there. i am not sure exactly what makes someone able to do that, but it happens often. in the world of playwriting how is tennesee williams able to portray the lead character in the glass menagerie as beautifully as he does? some people are gifted in this way and i am grateful they opt to choose to share their abilities with us so i can learn more. otherwise i would not know and ignorance of others' conditions is no excuse to ignore them!

Winter--- Love it, beautifully written, thanks. It will always be good writing that works for me, not authenticity. I've sat through plenty of boring stuff that was based in someone's real-life experience. It's not life that makes you an writer but skill, instinct and work. The joy of being able to call yourself a writer after a lifetime of work is to be able to convince people of anything, if you feel it. It's escape, it's expression, it's liberation. When it works, it works, when it doesn't it doesn't.

Winter, thank you for your blog. I think the critical point that Douglas made that rang true to me is that as an African American raised in the United States, the bulk of his educational and life experience has been oriented to the study of a dominant white American/European culture and world view. I don't know if the question is whether being of a certain race fundamentally excludes an artist from writing about those of other ethnicities, but rather, the extent to which we each deeply understand the cultural experiences of the whatever characters we are writing/directing/portraying. As an African American who wasn't introduced to a piece of literature in school by a person of color until I was 17, I know a thing or two about a great many characters written from within the white American cultural experience. But the point is that most American students had the same educational experience I did, which means that the majority of the white American students also came of age without ever being introduced to the voices and cultural experiences of people of other races. It's the learned knowledge and the lived knowledge of different cultures that prepares us to articulate those diverse experiences on-stage, no matter our own racial identity. It's not, to me, a question of racial identity. It's a question of the diversity of one's cultural experience that prepares you to authentically reflect people's lives on stage. I think the clarion call that is issued in both Douglas' and your piece is that if we want a theater community that is constantly creating and collaborating across various cultural borders, we need to change the ways our families and schools prepare us to engage in an increasingly more diverse world.