Whether they’re deemed classics or contemporary, the majority of plays performed by college theatre programs like Langara’s Studio 58, are written by old white men.
The world doesn’t look like a whitewashed sitcom from the 90s, neither should the film or theatre industry. But while film students have the opportunity to write their own scripts, acting students are often stuck with what seems like a rotating selection of plays, no matter the theatre school.
History is written by the victors, and theatre history is written by creative victors. From the comedies and tragedies of Ancient Greece, to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats getting a revival on Broadway, and a movie, a theatre kid’s life is filled with monologue and songs written by white men. Life imitates art, and life is not seen through the eyes of one group of people.
While playwrights like Tennessee Williams, William Shakespeare and Stephen Sondheim are rightfully applauded for their work and genius, their voices do not fully represent today’s theatre students or audiences. As Kathryn Shaw, the artistic director of Studio Arts and Studio 58 said, “diversity to me means stretching beyond the canon of old white men’s plays.”
Despite the fact that academics and critics alike can find relatable content in a work that is over 200 years old and that the human condition hasn’t changed, people have. Women are allowed to be actors on stage, being gay is no longer listed as a mental illness and being disabled doesn’t force you to the outskirts of society. And our schools and cities are, just like they were in Shakespeare’s time, diverse, but now we celebrate it.
So, give the people what they want: a diverse selection of plays. A production about and from different cultures and groups should not be news any more than a production of King Lear should be news—they should be expected, welcomed and readily accessible.