It’s 3:15 am, and honestly, my intent was to go to bed. You see, I’m a night owl who is trying to reset her circadian rhythms. But that’s neither here nor there.
As I often do (not recommended by all the “How to sleep better” articles) I was scrolling through Facebook posts before turning out the light when one post intensified a fire that has been burning inside me for a long, long time. This fire is the reason I started Classics in Color: A Theatre Company. And sleeping was no longer a possibility. So now, I am up, writing my first blog post to tell you about this fire. First, though, I thought I should let you know a little about me.
A little about me: My name is Nafeesa Monroe. I am of a mixed ethnic background, the daughter of an African-American & Haitian father and a German & Irish mother. I grew up in a predominantly White neighborhood, a middle to upper class community. We, though, just my mother and I by this time, lived on the outskirts, just on the boarder of town in order to qualify for the stellar public schools. We lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment. It was what we could afford, even when I began working after school and on the weekends. The amazing thing about my mother’s insistence of living in this town was all that it offered to the entire community. The schools were just the beginning. Where I became most who I am was in the city funded and community supported theatre.
Where I became most of who I am: Although the city itself was not all that ethnically varied, the theatre was quite diverse. I grew up in a theatre that practiced what is NOW called “non-traditional” casting. Casting a family of different ethnic backgrounds, an Asian Peter Pan, a Caucasian Ronnette (from Little Shop), changing the name of “Indians” from Peter Pan to “Islanders,” are just a few examples of the sensibility of non-traditional casting. It was what I understood as normal. Casting those best suited for the job, period. What I didn’t understand then was that I was living in the only place in the country that did this consistently…and, in my opinion, is STILL the only place to do it as consistently and as well as they do.
Tokenism is not non-traditional casting: I recently spent several years living in a wonderful theatre town. However, I was continually disappointed by the lack of non-traditional casting. Several companies did cast one or two roles non-traditionally within a season. But having one or two actors of color in a cast of thirty or more people is downright tokenism, not non-traditional casting. In my travels to other wonderful theatre towns, I found the largest culprits, in my, perhaps not so humble, opinion, are theatres producing classic and classical works across the country.
Random pictures of theatre across the country: I have not named any theatre in particular, so as not to call anyone out. I just want you to see what I see.
Inclusion is not their intention: Arguments for avoiding non-traditional casting are often made about historical representation, unable to find trained classical actors of color, etc. Although I hear the arguments, my personal experience has been quite different. What I have found more often than not, is not the intention to leave anyone out, but a LACK OF INTENTION to INCLUDE everyone, a lack of effort to pay attention, to question if one’s productions represent the community they intend to engage.
The intention of inclusion: This lack of intention is the one that truly fuels the flames of the fire within, the fire that decided to give rise to Classics in Color: A Theatre Company. Because there continues to be an incredible number of theatre companies who do not even consider diversifying their casts, I chose to create a theatre company with the intention of INCLUSION at its foundation.
I hope as you read this, you too will feel compelled to support theatre that represents and speaks to everyone in our world: an ethnically, culturally, and ability diverse group of souls.
Classics in Color: A Theatre Company. Classics by all the people, for all the people.