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Director discusses racial roles in theater

By EMMA BORNE | Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Notre Dame Director of Theater Kevin Dreyer spoke with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Ruined” and “Intimate Apparel” Lynn Nottage about race and the representation of race in theater on Tuesday in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Decio Theater. 

Dreyer said the title “A Conversation about Race and Representation” was a result of a problem of race in theater the University has been trying to address.

“It kind of grew out of some conversations that we’ve had on campus over the last several years about ‘how do we engage more performers of color,’ ‘how do we build an audience that comes to expect that of us.’ Not that they’re impressed that we do it, but that they’re disappointed when we don’t,” Dreyer said.    

The conversation began with Nottage, an African American herself, discussing her interest in African American art. She said this interest began at a young age under the influence of her parents. 

“My parents were deeply invested in art, in particular African American art,” Nottage said. “I grew up going to see plays at the Negro Ensemble. I saw all this sort of seminal work from the black arts movement and that was my foundation.”

Nottage said as her interest in the arts grew she became deeply interested in playwriting. She has written many celebrated plays and has won several awards for her work. 

Despite her success the journey has not always been easy, Nottage said. She spoke with Dreyer about an issue of race representation that arose when one of her plays was staged in Germany.

“In Germany I know that they have the habit of producing black plays in black face and very recently they wanted to do [one of my plays], and I said ‘I have no problem with them doing it, they just can’t do it in black face,'” Nottage said. 

Dreyer said Latino playwrights are currently dealing with a similar issue, in this case brown face. Nottage said it is incredibly unfair to not have Latinos or African Americans act in the roles of their own race and ethnicity. 

“In America it makes no sense, where you have a huge pool of Latino actors who are desperate for work to put on a play where there’s a Latino cast and choose to cast white folks. I think that’s incredibly dismissive of an entire acting pool,” Nottage said. 

Nottage said her piece of advice for students of color looking to go into theater is not to be afraid.

“Don’t be afraid to take the full journey,” Nottage said. “You must be tenacious and you must have absolute belief in what you’re doing.”