54% of the People. 12% of the Plays. Atlanta, Do We Have a Problem? – The New York Times

You can see what the Alliances money buys. At its 650-seat Coca-Cola Stage, I caught a performance of Maybe Happy Ending, a charming, Broadway-ready new musical about robots in love by Will Aronson and Hue Park. That it featured a largely Asian-American cast suggested a successful effort to program and hire with inclusion in mind. At the 200-seat Hertz stage, Seize the King Will Powers hip-hop retelling of Richard III was preparing to open.

And though, yes, it was February, Susan V. Booth, the theaters artistic director, said her goal is to make the entire season of 11 shows welcoming to diverse audiences. Its not just white play, white play, black-history-month black play, white play, which is how regional theaters used to show they were woke, she said. Because if your programing arc is episodic, the same will hold true in your audience. Indeed, at many Atlanta theaters, black theatergoers and white ones barely intersect.

Whats absolutely crucial is whos doing the inviting, Booth added, pointing as an example to Pearl Cleage, the Atlanta-based black writer whose Blues for an Alabama Sky and What I Learned in Paris, among many others, have had their premieres at the Alliance. We set ticket expectations for Pearls new plays as if they were musicals because when Pearl is inviting, she packs out the house.

Even so, Booth, who is white, admitted that the Alliances audiences overall are not as diverse as shed like: something like 30 percent to 35 percent nonwhite. (On Broadway, the figure is closer to a quarter.) I did not observe even that much melanin the night I saw Maybe Happy Ending, despite its Korean setting but in any case, Booth said, statistical diversity is not the goal.

True. But its a good step, right?

The goal is that we sit cheek by jowl with as much of a breadth of human experience as we can, not erasing human difference but unearthing what unites us.

I certainly had that experience the next evening when I saw Jocelyn Biohs School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play at Kenny Leons True Colors Theater. Even though I was one of the few white people in the audience, the breadth of human experience by age and gender and style if not race was strongly represented. The audiences engagement with the play itself, a recent hit Off Broadway, was likewise palpable, with hoots and gasps and back talk that enhanced the comedy as well as the dramatic turns.

54% of the People. 12% of the Plays. Atlanta, Do We Have a Problem? - The New York Times

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