in Theatre Journal, 57.4
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press
What is a black play? What is playing black? Hmm? Hmmmm. Well, the question exposes an anxiety, doesn’t it? Don’t we know by now? Do other groups ask questions like these? For whom are we defining the terms? Why ask? Can a clear-cut answer be given without excluding some things and some ones that should be included? The question, or a permutation of it, has recurred through modern history, and we are at another moment where we can stop and take stock in order to move forward. So perhaps the question itself should be appended with “for now.” Or, perhaps I should attend to the anxiety rather than the question. I am currently teaching two African American theatre history courses (one undergrad level and one grad level), and I am steeped in the richness of the performance traditions of folks of the African Diaspora living in the United States. I make a point to provide context for my students so that they do not read the plays in isolation or ahistorically. In order to more fully assess the importance and impact of the material, I ask them to imagine themselves as the playwright, performer or critic who has/had a certain belief about race. I remind them that we must likewise situate ourselves historically in our current moment as we examine the texts and become aware of the fact that the world will not always understand race in the same ways we do now.