Is it “selling out” to produce and direct white plays using Black actors instead of using Black writers? Most Black artist believe that in sticking to the “script” of Black plays by Black writers for Black actors. It is blasphemous, to some, to direct a white play with Black actors. Due in part to the history of black theatre and why it was created. It was created out of a need, a voice that was angry and dis-settled by the lack of representation within our community, segregation and slavery. Some people are really adamant about doing “our” stories.
I was talking to a white director and mentioned that I would love to do True West by Sam Shepard because I like the story and the relationship with the two brothers. I mentioned directing Julius Caesar, although I’m aware that this has been done before, as an all Black cast and he told me, in order for me to do Julius Caesar I would need to justify why I used Black actors instead of the typical white cast. And then he said that there were no Black Romans so that would confuse the audience and make them uncomfortable. He said that in order for me to use a Black cast I would have to change the design elements to justify my vision. He said that Black actors in togas performing Julius Caesar wouldn’t work. So I asked him would he direct Julius Caesar with white actors in togas? Of course he said no to the togas but yes to the white actors…but the point is, he was saying I, Black woman, would have to justify why I’m choosing that particular style or vision. If I was going to take a traditional, “classic” play, I had to keep it in the vein in which it was originally written or justify my vision by adding design elements for it to work.
I took from it that he basically wanted me to put Julius Caesar in the “hood” in order for me to justify my using Black actors. I told him that I didn’t agree with that choice and that’s border line racist to think that Black folks couldn’t pull that off-I didn’t have a classic vision for the play anyway-I was planning on creating a contemporary backdrop but it burned me up! Considering the fact that we have theater organizations such as The Classical Theatre of Harlem and even Congo Square is collaborating on a project this year with the American Theater Company. What do you think?