Author Topic: COMMUNICATION: Racism in the Rehearsal Room  (Read 6005 times)

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thankyou5

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COMMUNICATION: Racism in the Rehearsal Room
« on: Jul 01, 2010, 11:58 pm »
So here's a situation I'm dealing with and unfortunately it's not the first time; previously I refused a job due to similar circumstances.  So I thought I'd put it out there for you all to voice opinions. 

I'm preparing to stage manage an all African-American musical.  The director and I are both white.  While discussing logistics of the very short rehearsal process, the director felt it necessary to bring up the "fact" that the cast may need additional wrangling.  "Fore when dealing with an African-American cast it can be a bit like "Sunday at Church"", implying that they would be more focused on the social aspects of being together rather than being professionals and that getting work done would be difficult.

I found this very offensive, but have thus far refrained from saying so, due in part to the fact that there were several people in the room when this was stated and I did not want to pick a fight in front of others, some of those present are being mentored by this director.

Thoughts?  What would you do? 

I'm thinking of confronting the director privately about being offended by these remarks, but another part of me feels that holding my tongue is better as the process is only 2 weeks; the director leaves at opening and I have no plans of ever working with this person again.

Edited subject line-Rebbe
« Last Edit: Jul 21, 2010, 10:30 am by Rebbe »

Rebbe

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Re: Racism in the Rehearsal Room
« Reply #1 on: Jul 02, 2010, 10:23 am »
Of course you need to follow your conscience and speak up (calmly, non-confrontationally, in private) if the director says something that is truly over the line.  But if you’re questioning whether or not it was over the line, I’d give the director the benefit of the doubt here.  I think the comment was in poor taste, but I think defining it as racist is going too far.  The director may have said something out of character because he was trying to make you feel more comfortable or prepared, though clearly this approach backfired.  Calling the director on this remark before rehearsals have even started will probably make him defensive, and add tension to your relationship. 

See how the director behaves in rehearsals, and if you feel uncomfortable with future remarks, you can discreetly check-in with the cast to see how they’re feeling and go from there.  This may not be a totally accurate parallel, but what if the scenario was a male SM & director, and an all female cast, and the comment was “dealing with a female cast can be a bit like Saturday at the Hair Salon.”  Would you feel equally uncomfortable?  Would you shrug it off?  It may be worthwhile to consider what it is about his comment that makes you feel offended.
"...allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster."  (Philip Henslowe, Shakespeare In Love)

hbelden

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Re: Racism in the Rehearsal Room
« Reply #2 on: Jul 02, 2010, 05:13 pm »
Here's the How to Tell People They Sound Racist youtube. Everyone should watch this, it's only a couple minutes long. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc

Racism is really difficult to deal with, and we all need to attack it in ourselves as well as in others.  And, putting the "racist" label on something or somebody is the fastest way to end all constructive dialogue that I know of.

thankyou5, I'd ask why that comment got under your skin, and what it is about your director's perception of facts that bothers you.  In other words, what specifically is the harm done by your director's statement, and to whom?

I'm not asking because I want to know; I have my own answers.  I'm asking because you need to have delineated it as specifically as you can so that when you approach your director about it (and I hope you do) he or she might actually learn how to change behavior rather than simply saying "I'm not a racist, how dare you?"  Nobody gets helped by that conversation.
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On_Headset

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Re: Racism in the Rehearsal Room
« Reply #3 on: Jul 02, 2010, 05:40 pm »
I recently had to deal with a very similar situation (a white director had to split a company of 30 onto 5 projects, and somehow all the people of colour were put on the "Caribbean voodoo witch doctor" show). My response was to discreetly meet with the cast to feel them out (does this offend you? are you comfortable with it?) and made it known that I was willing to listen with an open mind to any complaints or objections they had.

In the process, I did delve up some quite serious complaints, so I had a meeting with the director and approached it as a matter of personnel management rather than challenging his artistic decisions or overtly accusing him of racism: this is disrupting rehearsals, it's making people uncomfortable, it's engendering bitterness within the company, etc. It hadn't even occurred to him that he'd put all the people of colour in the same group, and he addressed the situation in an appropriate and forthright manner at the next rehearsal. No complaints since, although I still routinely check in with the cast to be sure.

Your instincts re: not going off on the director are probably right in this instance. Part of the stage manager's job in these situations is to throw themselves on the bomb, so to speak. Gaining a reputation for stoic professionalism and an even-handed approach to personnel management will serve you much better than gaining a reputation for being easily offended. (Not that you're being easily offended--the remark in question is unquestionably racist--but rather that this won't necessarily be reflected in the gossip.)

MatthewShiner

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Re: Racism in the Rehearsal Room
« Reply #4 on: Jul 02, 2010, 07:38 pm »
ALL OF THIS IS MY OPINION.

Let’s be clear, I am a white, male stage manager (of a certain age, of a specific sexual orientation).  This is my opinion, and I am sure other people will have much more to say about this.

First off, let’s ask an interesting question, was it racist not to hire a African-American Director and Stage Manager for an African-American Musical?  Just wondering.  [There is a topic that could be an entire thread on it’s own - sexism and racism in stage management, especially commercial projects.]

Second off, what would I do?  Hmmm, interesting issue.  Is this director of a certain age?  A different generation?  There might be little you can do other then suck it up - you aren’t going to be able change someone’s racist viewpoints and personality in two weeks. 

I think, in hindsight, I would have played dumb, and asked the director “What do you mean?”, “How so?”, “I am not familiar with that saying” to the point that the director would have to realize that they were being racist.  (play really dense playing that you yourself didn’t understand the stereotype.)

I think, again if I wasn’t speechless, I think I also would have said, and this is a personal thing based upon my SM style and personality -  “I don’t like to make assumptions about possible problems with casts until  a specific situation arises, I am always afraid of assumptions like that might  become self fulfilling prophecies.  In the two weeks, I am sure a whole hosts of issues will arise, I don’t want to make some up for based upon a stereotype.”  Or, again, depending on my relationship with the director, I might have said (based on my irreverent personality) “It’s 2010, did you just say that?”.  But again, totally depends on the situation and the power structure in the room. 

Now, if these assumptions were made based upon certain individuals . . . like they cast Bob, Sarah, and Jessie, the director has worked with Bob, Sarah and Jessie, and working with Bob, Sarah and Jessie can be a bit like “Sunday in Church”, then perhaps this would be a different conversation.

If you don’t feel comfortable, think of how the cast is going to feel with this director. 

Is there someone other then director you can express your concerns?  A producer?  It might be wise to lay a little ground work, because this situation may grow and fester.  This person is a mentor, and I am sure someone in this organization is going to want to know of this particular issue. 

And depending on what comes out of this . . . it will be nice to start the paper trail early.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

TimmyP1955

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Re: Racism in the Rehearsal Room
« Reply #5 on: Jul 11, 2010, 02:17 am »
I don't think it's racist at all.  Different groups have different dynamics.  Look at a Full Gospel church, a Baptist church, a Methodist Church, a Catholic church, etc.  Some are stoic.  Some seem crazed.  Some are steeped in tradition.  Some loose their emotional inhibitions and become one with the spirit.  These differences spill over in to how these various groups interact in other setting as well.  The same goes for the cast in childrens' theater, adult theater, and professional theater - each have a different way of interacting, and in some of these groups require more wrangling than others (sometimes the adults are as much trouble as the kids - I'm told that sometimes the pros are too). 

On_Headset

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Re: Racism in the Rehearsal Room
« Reply #6 on: Jul 11, 2010, 04:37 am »
I don't think it's racist at all.  Different groups have different dynamics.  Look at a Full Gospel church, a Baptist church, a Methodist Church, a Catholic church, etc.  Some are stoic.  Some seem crazed.  Some are steeped in tradition.  Some loose their emotional inhibitions and become one with the spirit.  These differences spill over in to how these various groups interact in other setting as well.  The same goes for the cast in childrens' theater, adult theater, and professional theater - each have a different way of interacting, and in some of these groups require more wrangling than others (sometimes the adults are as much trouble as the kids - I'm told that sometimes the pros are too).
Well, let's talk about this.

You're quite correct that different groups have different dynamics, and that understanding and reacting to these dynamics is an important part of the collaborative process, particularly for someone like a director or stage manager who is directly responsible for fostering that collaboration. Assessments will not always be positive, and it's important that we be able to make levelheaded, sound judgments about company needs in order to make best use of our resources, even if these judgments are negative or might be offensive to the people involved: I can't imagine anyone would approve of being called unprofessional, rude, selfish, annoying, demanding, etc. but all of these traits need to be acknowledged and managed as best we can.

What's happened in this case is that a director has, sight unseen, made decisions about how he wants the rehearsal process to be managed.

There are some circumstances under which this sort of judgment would be appropriate: deciding that a company which included lots of children needs additional wrangling and backstage support would, I'm sure you'd agree, be a sound judgment under almost all circumstances.

However, this decision--that he expects his cast to be lazy and unprofessional based entirely on vague information about their ethnicities--seems to be motivated by stereotypes as much as anything else. Even if it were true that black people as a category were less professional and more inclined to slack off than other actors (which is itself something I'd dispute), to make the pre-emptive, sight-unseen judgment that these people fit firmly within the stereotype is problematic regardless of other angles on it.

If he had waited until the company had come together a few times before passing judgment on their professionalism, then remarks on the subject would be entirely appropriate--although using language like "church on Sunday" might still be offensive. In this case, the fact that the remarks were motivated by stereotypes rather than by experience working with the company, to my way of thinking, speaks to racism.

An alternative approach: would it be sexist for the director of an all-woman show to say, as a serious instruction to the stage manager, "[...] and we need to make sure there's lots of ice cream in the Green Room fridge, because you know how women get when they're PMSing [...]"? It would certainly make my spidey-sense tingle.
« Last Edit: Jul 11, 2010, 04:38 am by On_Headset »

DeeCap

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Re: Racism in the Rehearsal Room
« Reply #7 on: Jul 13, 2010, 02:20 pm »
I had a similar problem years ago when I had a stage management intern.

She was constantly late, and didn't understand why she had to be in rehearsal "when all she does is sit around". I tried talking to her, I tried to give her more projects. Nothing worked. I talked to my production manager, and he didn't do anything.
She was then assigned to be a spot op. She showed up late for tech, and then she quit the show.
When I spoke about this to my Artistic Director, he said "Well, black people are always late".

I. Was. Floored.

I let it go.  The AD and I didn't get along, and I was trying to hold down my job. I thought it was best to not say anything and pretend that it went over my head (I'm sure my face told a different story)
I would like to say that if that happened again, I would have said that it was the fact she didn't like the job, and nothing to do with her skin color, but who knows? I might be struck dumb again.

thankyou5

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Re: Racism in the Rehearsal Room
« Reply #8 on: Jul 13, 2010, 07:04 pm »
Here's an update to this situation. 

I chose to speak to the Production Manager/General Manager and not the director.  I wanted someone of authority to know my concerns in case something was to arise during the rehearsal process, while maintaining a working relationship with the director.  During my conversation, I was informed that my concerns were not the first and that the producer would be notified and that I should speak directly to the producer should anything else happen.   

Due to unrelated circumstances, the director will now be present minimally and an African-American associate director has been brought in to oversee the rehearsal process with the original director maintaining artistic control.

 

riotous