The first thing that struck me in the article was the phrase "predominantly minority population". Kind of an oxymoron, isn't it? And, by the LA Times quote, one that we'll have to figure out RULL SOON because "The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that minorities will constitute half of all Americans by 2042."
I, like most other progressive white liberals, revel in this future fantasy world I get to live in that is made up of a whole generation of beautifully mocha-colored people. Divisive race lines will be erased, and we all get along and sing kum-by-a. (Even the dirt, it's clean!) But I'm pretty sure that the reality of a fully "predominantly minority population" is still a stratified community, with just a lot more people who identify as non-white still getting the short end of the societal stick. What really happens when minorities are technically not minorities anymore? Hopefully that means more minorities getting hired and landing positions of power, but that might not be the case. In other words, the problem that we don't see a lot of minority narratives in media today might just solve itself eventually... unless we're really racist, which we might be.
Without getting to much into blogsterbating about how we need more diversity (duh) and how white people are doing it wrong (do we seriously need to institutionalize RULES and LAWS about hiring women and minorities? We can't just naturally tend that way by now? Jeez!), I'll boil it down to this: People with power rarely want to turn it over. It is rarely understood that recognizing someone else's power does not diminish your own.
SO... with this new diversity plan proposed in LA, that "calls for at least 51% of those employed by Southern California theater companies by 2019 to be people of color, women or those younger than 35," here are my thoughts...
The problem with institutionalizing race and gender factors into the way people get hired is that it starts to, yes, actually be unlawful... It gets muddy. Liberals want the law to institutionalize being nice, and Republicans want the law to stay out of our personal business because we promise we'll just be nice people without being told to do so. What the law can do (and does frequently in universities) is require a certain percentage of minorities in order for said institution to request certain funding... This also is a complicated and some times problematic situation, but perhaps it is a nudge in the right direction. What the nay-sayers have to keep in mind is that THIS is what the LA theatre makers are proposing - not a law, not a regimented quota, just an "initiative", which is a fancy way to say "suggestion". If it's such a good suggestion, we really don't need to get our bikinis in a bunch, SoCal.
One of the biggest problems in the performing arts is that it seems that the old, white, baby boomers are the theatre patrons with all the money. (From that LA Times article: "75% of theatergoers in the L.A. region are Caucasian, and 80% are of the baby boomer generation or older.") We, the theatre makers, are absolutely terrified to lose them because so many of us depend on ticket sales to survive.
The crazy thing is, our fears are legitimate. I've seen it happen: a large theatre that draws the baby-boomer crowd does ONE play with people of color on stage, and people. actually. complain. Like. Call up and say "I don't see why there had to be so many black people on stage."
Do we really want to pander to the quietly racist people, anyway? If they really have a problem looking at black people for that long, maybe they should stay home and rent Hello Dolly. (Oh wait, Louis Armstrong is in that one, isn't he?)
The truth is, though, that we DO want them to see the progressive shows we produce. For many reasons, but most notably because they have almost all the money that we need in order to produce said progressive shows.
What a bind we're in.
Because honestly, the really racist rich people can cancel their subscriptions for all I care - most bigger theatres will survive without them, anyway. (Really, there aren't that many people who will outright cancel their subscriptions because nonwhite people are on stage. At least, not in the quietly racist north.)
But plans to put more minority stories on stage can't be all we do. Here are some more ideas...
- Market for more diverse audiences (there isn't just the one radio station and the one newspaper in town)
- lower ticket costs
- provide childcare
- package family deals in subscriptions
- turn your lobby into a gallery for local art
- bring "previews" into local venues
- hire non-white people in administrative positions, especially marketing