Black Theatre Survey 2016-2017

Beginning two years ago I traveled around the country, interviewing a number of Black Theatre artists and administrators and inviting about 70 Black Theatre organizations to participate in a study looking at the status of Black Theatre in North America. The result is the Black Theatre Survey 2016-2017.

Originally, this study began as an effort to develop a business plan for my own theater, Plowshares Theatre Company. My original idea was to look at how other Black Theatre administrators withstood the economic challenges of the last fifteen years and formulate a plan built upon their best practices. I was exploring the following:

  • What weaknesses Black Theatre leaders feel have impaired or are impairing their effectiveness?
  • What strengths did they possess that allowed them to overcome those challenges?
  • What are the obstacles to “sustainability” amongst these Black Theatres.

Almost immediately this project became something more significant almost immediately. What this project evolved into was a deeper examination of the inherent instability of Black Theatre underpinning our sector of the nonprofit community as well as illuminating some of the causes for the instability. Regardless of where the theatre resides or its pedagogy the challenges to sustainability were remarkably consistent from region to region. Initial reactions might be that there is something inherently flawed with this particular type of theatre organization, or that the mission or group of artists cannot see themselves growing beyond a small percentage because they represent a minority interest. In actuality evidence shows there is something far more familiar and pervasive at work.

The threats impacting this sector of the American Theatre have progressed over more than 30 years and cannot be neglected any longer. The conditions that makes space for this imbalance to exist – and allows for it to continue – has to change if this situation is to  improve.

This study concludes the American Theatre community has allowed a power imbalance to exist and be sustained far too long. It reveals some key findings that point to the specific challenges faced by African American artists and offers some potential solutions for addressing them.

I am eager to work with any interested party on developing a plan that:

  1. Addresses the factors impacting our ability to sustain our institutions;
  2. Helps to build greater and more challenging opportunities for Black Theatre artists to work;
  3. Improves the general awareness and appreciation of Black Theatre.
I welcome your feedback.
Gary