Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Playwright's Experiment with Race

"In the black family, there is a different tempo to the conversation. In the white family, there is a different distance and fragility to touching and contact." -- Playwright Tom Minter

The press release for the play, "Past is Present, Imperfect," offers another quote by Minter: "I wonder. Now that we have a black president, can we tick the box of race and leave it behind as an issue? If not, how do we continue the opportunity of conversation?"

In an effort to answer these questions, Minter wrote a play about a multi-racial family. But to push the experiment farther, he decided to have two separate casts with different racial mixes perform the same play before the same audience, and to compare the performances and the reactions to them.

I asked the directors of the two casts if the era of post-racial theater was upon us. One of them said she didn't think so, while the other didn't like the question, and said race never had anything to do with theater. After the audience watched, there were nervous giggles, as well as carefully chosen words to describe the differences they perceived.

Judge for yourselves.

One of my earlier reports this year looked into how a diverse neighborhood in Washington D.C., still marred by race riots of the past, embraced the swearing-in of a multi-racial president.