May Issue - Stage Directions Magazine

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May Issue - Stage Directions Magazine

Feature

Seth Rozin

Depending on the production,

the theatre may work with

autism information groups who

distribute promotional materials

and special offers right to

families. It also may work with a

Latino communications company

that owns varied media outlets

or with diversity networks

at major local corporations,

according to Kathy D. Graves,

Mixed Blood’s marketing and

public relations consultant.

When thinking about diversity,

however, Mixed Blood goes

beyond just concentrating on

marketing and what plays it’s

putting on. To grow a diverse

audience, it looks at the whole theatre experience a patron

may encounter, from not only who’s onstage, but also who’s

taking your ticket. Their mission is Dr. King’s vision, and that

influences all aspects of their operations. “It’s our reason for

existence,” says Reuler.

Baltimore’s Centerstage also takes a holistic approach to

diversity. While one-third of every season is devoted to blackthemed

shows, the theatre strives to be more inclusive in

everything, including its board representation, staff, volunteers,

community outreach, media choices, photographs on the walls

and brochures. The end result is an environment that seems

open and respectful of every patron who walks in the door. “If

people come in the door, they don’t feel like they’re entering

an alien territory,” says Gavin Witt, the professional theatre’s

resident dramaturg.

And if people feel welcome on their first visit to the theatre,

they’re likely to come back. “I keep likening it to dates,” says Witt.

“If we’re clear about who we are and what we’re about, you’ll

have better second dates.”

Lately, Centerstage has been thinking of diversity not just

in terms of race, but also in terms of age. “Diversity is an ever

expanding term for us,” he says. As with African-Americans, the

goal is the same: to make young people feel welcome. And as

with African-Americans, the entire theatregoing experience

needs to be examined in order to obtain that goal.

“It’s not just putting young people onstage,” says Witt. “It’s

not just putting on funky shows.” The theatre is looking at its

From InterAct Theatre Company’s production of A House With No Walls

promotional materials. Do they

catch the eye? Do they utilize the

Internet effectively?

American Stage Theatre

Company, in St. Petersburg, Fla.,

also has been trying to diversify

its audience by reaching out

to the young. Its educational

programs serve lots of children,

which gets them, as well as their

parents, involved in the theatre.

It offers an inexpensive ticket

it calls the Next Wave Pass

for people 30 and under. It also

offers pay-what-you-can-nights.

“On those nights, we find we

have a real diverse audience,”

says Todd Olson, the theatre’s

producing artistic director. When American Stage builds its new

theatre, it’s hoping to provide drop-in childcare and a crying

room for fussy children.

The theatre also has been reaching out to the black community.

Faced with dwindling audiences for its Shakespeare in the

Park series, a 20-year tradition, the theatre changed the outdoor

performances last year by performing Crowns, a gospel musical,

instead of Shakespeare. The result was the biggest black audience

the theatre ever had.

Olson warns, though, that reaching a diverse audience

shouldn’t be the main reason to do a particular show. “Ultimately,

it’s got to be about quality,” he said. Besides, the best works transcend

barriers and speak to everyone. They’re universal. A Raisin in

the Sun isn’t just a black story. “It’s a human story,” says Olson.

Typically, though, most theatres aren’t thinking about diversity,

says Rozin. It takes time and money to broaden an audience,

and doing so takes away from energy spent on making sure the

people who always come still do. Running a theatre is often a

precarious financial enterprise, so staffers often don’t have the

luxury of worrying about the future and what it will mean for their

audience. They’re worried about the here and now, which means

many theatres are content with the status quo. But in the long run,

that attitude could be shortsighted.

“The country is diversifying,” says Rozin. “We’ve got to be dealing

with it.”

John Crawford is a freelance writer living in the Boston area.

28 May 2007 • www.stage-directions.com

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