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Gotta give a shout out to Non-Profit Quarterly for putting up two theatre related articles yesterday. I wanted to call attention to it to show appreciation for to them for covering arts concerns.
(n/b – slight mistake -during editing I noticed Ross Jackson’s article was published on Jan 29, 2016, though it appeared in my social media feed today.)
The first piece by Ross Jackson on Blackness in Nonprofit Theater reinforces a lot of the conversations that have been occurring lately about the recognition and opportunities afforded people of color.
It’s publication is timely just as we move into February when many arts organizations offer their Black History Month programming. Jackson rightly criticizes this approach, (or having any sort of “ethnic slot”), as tokenism. I think many more arts organizations recognize this than had 10-15 years ago and have taken steps to remedy this.
Jackson goes on to point out some less obvious, but equally problematic choices that are made in casting and programming decisions.
More troubling is that the lone black cast member is usually male. Black women are often cast only when the script calls for them or to fill promiscuous and degenerate roles…for example, auditioning a black actor who has the talent to play Rosalind, the witty, courageous leading lady of the court from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, whom the audience is made to feel deserves love, and casting her instead as Phebe, the entitled, arrogant, shepherdess who is criticized for having too many lovers. Rosalind stays white.
Furthermore, when casting black actors in nonspecific roles, it is not at all necessary to reimagine or reconceptualize the production by placing it in the inner city or adding what a middle-aged white male thinks of as a “Hip-Hop influence,” in order to “excuse” the decision to have black bodies present onstage. We don’t all walk around with a bassline underscoring our every action; there is no reality to that, so do not try to insert it for us.
He goes to provide other examples which place black actors in the status of otherness. He proposes ways in which organizations can examine their choices and processes.
The other mention of theater on Non-Profit Quarterly was about how theaters are becoming more effective at cultivating individual donors to support their work as corporate support wanes. The piece draws from an article in American Theater.
The American Theater article is worth reading because it goes into greater detail than the NPQ piece. However, Eileen Cunniffe does a good job summarizing on NPQ. The reason why many theaters have become more effective is because they are using predictive analytic tools and engaging in one-on-one relationship building to a much greater degree than in the past. That isn’t necessarily good news for every theater company who lack the resources to keep up.
…the newer approaches to donor cultivation that have been successful for nonprofit theater companies are also more labor-intensive—sometimes requiring additional development staff, other times requiring more flexibility from development staffers in terms of when they work, adding more evening and weekend hours to woo donors—again, including board members—before and during theater performances. He also notes that fundraisers must pay more attention than ever to generational differences among individual donors.
Finally, these approaches are likely to bear more fruit for larger theater companies that can afford to invest more in fundraising; they may be unnecessary for the smaller companies, which already know most of their individual donors quite well; and the better they work for the larger companies, the more they may disadvantage midsized companies, which may not be able to invest in additional staff or bells and whistles like predictive modeling.