Over the weekend I caught a couple news articles out of the UK about a production which is carving out one performance in their run for black audiences only. The show, Tambo & Bones, which runs June 16 to July 15, is said to be taking a page from Jeremy O. Harris’ show Slave Play which included “Black Out” performances whose intent was to fill all the seats with Black identifying audience members in order to provide an environment in which they might feel completely free to interact with the artists and each other.
“The theatre’s website stresses that “no one is excluded”, but the accompanying promotional material hints strongly that white theatre-goers would not be welcome along on July 5.”
In answer to the objection that this constitutes a type of segregation, it was noted that theaters already provide dedicated performance experiences to various groups.
These include a “socially distanced and masked” show, one using British Sign Language, captioned and audio described performances, and a “relaxed environment” version, where those with autistic spectrum conditions are not expected to respect the normal theatre etiquette of remaining in their seats and observing silence.
Granted, most of those types of performances don’t emphasize an exclusivity in messaging as heavily as Tambo & Bones is. This seems to be one of those cases where there is no bad publicity. For one group, being emphatic that this performance is for you has a great appeal…and can create perhaps an even stronger, almost magnetic appeal for those who are explicitly being told one performance out of many isn’t for them.
Slave Play created a dedicated Black Out page to encourage and help others follow the example of the inaugural performances. Among the productions who have hosted Black Out nights are: Long Day’s Journey Into Night; A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet; What to Send Up When It Goes Down; Marie and Rosetta; Choir Boy; as well as Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play and Daddy.
While the page mentions that two of the Black Out nights for Slave Play were invite only performances, it appears tickets for other performances following this approach were more publicly available for sale similar to how the Tambo & Bones tickets are. (Basically, I couldn’t find any news stories specifying they were invite-only private events.)