BIPOC Theater Artists Post Petition Demanding Change: ‘We See You, White American Theater’

Cynthia Erivo performing at the 2019 Tony Awards at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Propelled by the momentum of this month’s ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, the theater community is the latest industry to be challenged to take concrete steps to correct systemic racism in its concert halls and on its Broadway stages. On Monday, hundreds of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) theater makers cosigned an open letter titled “We see you, White American Theater,” outlining what they have grappled with while operating within the largely white-dominated professional theater world, and urging supporters to add their names to a petition. “We see you,” the letter reads. “We have always seen you. We have watched you pretend not to see us.”

The letter lays out the numerous obstacles people of color face, whether they be actors, playwrights, staff, or executives. “We have watched you use our BIPOC faces on your brochures, asking us to politely shuffle at your galas, talkbacks, panels, board meetings, and donor dinners, in rooms full of white faces, without being willing to defend the sanctity of our bodies beyond the stages you make us jump through hoops to be considered for,” the letter reads. “We see you.”

“We have watched you say things like - I may be white, but I’m a woman. Or, I may be white, but I’m gay. As if oppression isn’t multi-layered. We see you,” the letter continues. “We will wrap the least privileged among us in protection and fearlessly share our many truths. About theaters, executive leaders, critics, casting directors, agents, unions, commercial producers, universities and training programs. You are all a part of this house of cards built on white fragility and supremacy, and this is a house that will not stand.” You can read their statement, which is co-signed by Billy Porter, Cynthia Erivo, Viola Davis, and hundreds of others, in its entirety here.

BIPOC Theater Artists Post Petition Demanding Change