BIPOC Artists and Theatermakers Discuss the Challenges of Working in White Spaces

Inspired by August Wilson’s 1996 keynote address to the Theater Communications Group, Wesleyan's Theater Department presented a discussion titled "Re-Evaluating the Ground on Which We(s) Stand(s)" on Sept. 25.

Inspired by August Wilson’s 1996 keynote address to the Theater Communications Group, Wesleyan’s Theater Department presented a discussion titled “Re-Evaluating the Ground on Which We(s) Stand(s)” on Sept. 25.

The event, hosted by Assistant Professor of Theater Maria-Christina Oliveras (left) and Associate Professor of English Rashida Shaw McMahon (right) explored how Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) artists and theater-makers are engaging in conversations about the challenges of BIPOC theater in predominantly white spaces.

The event, hosted by Assistant Professor of Theater Maria-Christina Oliveras (left) and Associate Professor of English Rashida Shaw McMahon ’99 (right) explored how Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) artists and theater-makers are engaging in conversations about the challenges of BIPOC theater in predominantly white spaces. Oliveras is an actor, singer, and educator whose career spans theater, film, television, and voice-overs. On Broadway, she originated the role of Gina in Amélie, and also appeared in Machinal and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. McMahon, an author and researcher, is the author of The Black Circuit: Race, Performance, and Spectatorship in Black Popular Theatre (Routledge, March 2020). Her current research projects include an investigation into the hypervisibility of African American women characters within the plays of August Wilson.

Guest speakers and acclaimed actors Crystal Dickinson (Clybourne Park and You Can’t Take It With You on Broadway; Showtime’s The Chi) and Brandon Dirden (Martin Luther King, Jr. in All the Way starring Bryan Cranston and Jitney on Broadway; FX’s The Americans; Netflix’s The Get Down) were the event's key panelists. Guest speakers and acclaimed actors Crystal Dickinson (Clybourne Park and You Can’t Take It With You on Broadway; Showtime’s The Chi) and Brandon Dirden (Martin Luther King, Jr. in All the Way starring Bryan Cranston and Jitney on Broadway; FX’s The Americans; Netflix’s The Get Down) were the event's key panelists. 

Acclaimed actors Crystal Dickinson (Clybourne Park and You Can’t Take It With You on Broadway; Showtime’s The Chi) and Brandon Dirden (All the Way and Jitney on Broadway; FX’s The Americans; Netflix’s The Get Down) served as the event’s guest speakers. They also presented, as actors, scenes from four plays which served as anchoring points to engage the audience in direct conversation with the work, its themes, and its resonance and relevance today. “It’s important for you to see our work and see us perform, but our goal and our mission—the purpose of the work, the purpose of the art—is to educate and to inform,” Dickinson said. “All the work that I choose, it doesn’t matter if it’s TV or theater, I’m always hoping people will have a conversation at the end of it—there’s something that sparks, something uncomfortable, or something sticky. We’re interested in how the work affects society, how the art can change and mold how people are imagining the America we live in.”

The event featured excerpts from plays by Adrienne Kennedy, Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Dominique Morriseau,

Dickinson and Dirden performed excerpts from plays by Adrienne Kennedy, Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Dominique Morriseau, and spoke about them afterward.

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Dickinson and Dirden perform a scene from Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit ’67. The play depicts the race riots that ravaged Detroit in 1967. “This play in particular, we’ve been talking about it in white spaces. This is not a secretive conversation that we’ve kept to ourselves,” Dirden said. “Detroit 1967. The fact that that it isn’t taught in our schools. We were doomed to repeat it, and that was about police brutality.”

Co-sponsored by the Theater Department and the English Department.

The audience was encouraged to ask questions via chat throughout the event.

Watch the full event recording online here. And RSVP for the Theater Deparment’s next event, “A Conversation with Associate Professor Rashida Shaw McMahon” at 4 p.m. Oct. 19.

“Thank you again for all your support and presence,” Oliveras said. “The first of many conversations, as we collectively lean into the stickiness and beautiful potential change of this moment.”