Stage Write: POC and Theatre at Brown

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Are you interested in theatre at Brown? Whether you’re a veteran actor or a fresh newbie, you’ve come to the right place – Stage Write! I’m Olivia Cummings, first-year Shakespeare enthusiast, techie, and budding thespian. I’ll be writing about my experiences in the various facets of theatre life at Brown this year.

Diversity is one of those buzzwords that colleges like to throw around a lot.  Brown is no different in that regard.  And while Brown is a diverse school on many levels, there are some facets of Brown that don’t seem to get many people of color (POC) involved.  One could argue that theatre is one of those places.  Read on to learn more about my perspective on diversity in theatre at Brown.

As a black American/Jamaican woman, I have a different experience than most when it comes to life in theatre at Brown.  Though there us a conscious effort to cast people from underrepresented identities in shows, especially the shows run by the TAPS department, there are often shows where there are very few non-white actors.  And when there are non-white actors, it may often be that they are cast in “stereotypical roles,” like that of the angry/sassy black woman.

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(Not that sassiness is a negative – it’s just kinda boring to see the same groups of people play only certain kinds of characters.)

This is particularly a problem when the directors are non-POC because perpetuating pernicious narratives and limiting the types of characters non-white actors can play.  When this happens once, it is problematic.  When this happens in nearly every show (especially in musical theatre and operas)?  Then it is evidence of larger societal issues that are manifesting at Brown.  Unless these problems are addressed while future actors, directors, and producers are here at Brown, then we will continue to face a dearth of media diversity.

Fortunately, we have started this conversation.  For example, Viola Davis, who plays Annalise Keating on How to Get Away with Murder, talked about the importance diversity in media here at Brown last week (!!!) and in her famous speech at last year’s Emmys. The up-side of this issue is that, if you are interested in coming to Brown, you can help be an important element of change on campus.  Theatre is traditionally very white and affluent wherever you go, but here at Brown I think we are excited to make theatre more diverse and inclusive.

As a potential Immunobiology and/or Public Health concentrator who is pre-med (PLME), I’ll approach theatre as someone who is doing it as a (very time-intensive) hobby. If you have any questions for me or would like to be connected with someone who is looking to pursue theatre after college, email me at olivia_cummings@brown.eduLooking forward to seeing you all at Brown soon!

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