Creators and Performers Confront the Blinding Whiteness of Atlanta’s Theaters

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Mar 19, 2020

Atlanta is the U.S.’s second-largest city for Black residents, who are also the majoritybut they only make up 12 percent of the plays produced, the New York Times reports. On March 18, the Times writes that of the 187 theater productions staged last year, a meager 22 were by playwrights of color, including one Asian-American and one Latinx person.

To address what some in the industry are calling “white supremacy,” according to the Times, a couple of hundred theater folks gathered last month to read a 15-minute play by Black and Latinx actors called “Dear Atlanta Theater.” In this exercise, artists reportedly addressed bad lightening and mics that don’t properly match skin tones. The issue also extended to funding and ultimately, who gets to participate in the creative process and how. 

For example, Lisa Adler, co-artistic director of Horizon Theater, uses its $1.5 million annual budget to keep the theater’s paying customers happy, whom she said are predominately White. “I have to keep my White audience because they are funding the season,” Adler told the Times. “So if I’m producing five plays, two that are specifically for Black audiences are the most I can do.” 

Even though he’s taking a different approach, Jamil Jude of Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company explained why theater directors, like Adler, may have to pick and choose. “The case has been made that White theaters in Atlanta have an easier time getting funding for Black plays than Black theaters do,” Jude told NYT.

Nonetheless, Jude said he was dealing with the system by focusing on the community he seeks to uplift. “Rather than fight what White theaters do, I want to make a safe space for artists of color.”