‘after bricks and pieces’ – who makes the theatre we watch?
Next week, I’m going to see the Matthew Xia-directed Blue/Orange at the Young Vic. Next month, it’s time for me to see award-winning writer and tiata fahodzi collaborator Charlene James’ Cuttin’ It at The Yard Theatre. Last month, I crammed in both Les Blancs and The Suicide at the National, and last week I saw tiata fahodzi’s own bricks and pieces. Covering topics from mental health issues to FGM, colonialism to grief, the plays have almost universally got great reviews from theatergoers and have played to many sold out audiences. The plays all also feature black actors, their faces prominently displayed on posters and flyers from Bloomsbury to the Southbank to Hackney Wick. Are we, as I’ve heard people say, in a new age of so-called ‘diverse theatre’?
‘Diversity’ is always such a difficult word when it comes to theatre, as well as in the arts as a whole. What does it even mean? For some it’s as simple as visibility, and I totally understand why. As someone black and female, seeing myself reflected on stage is a privilege I’m used to not always having. It’s great to have more art than ever before tackling so-called ‘black issues’, but it would be nice, sometimes, to have black and brown faces not only being put into scripts to explore race and racism.
Watching bricks and pieces, I was struck by how universal the story of the play really was. To be as blunt as possible: any of the people in the play could have been white, but they weren’t. The characters – a pair of lovers, a wayward cousin, a baby brother – might have had so much more to offer than just the shade of their skin, but their race was something that wasn’t ignored, either. From lines about “back home” and “black nerds”, to the implication of the ritual of black communities cooking for people who are grieving, bricks and pieces showed how theatre about people who happen to be black doesn’t have to be ‘colourblind’. The race of the characters in bricks and pieces isn’t ignored, but also isn’t what defines them.
From my point of view, diversity – whatever it really is – can’t stop at the faces on our stages. Who writes the plays that are being put on? Who directs them? How many people in the creative team look like the black and brown characters in the plays their help put on? bricks and pieces might have a black cast, but it also has a black writer and a black director – something I think is reflected in the thoughtful way the characters’ race is addressed. It was refreshing, and welcomed. A new age of diverse theatre might be on its way in, but let’s hope that people who look like all of us, of every race, get the chance to be behind the scenes as well.
bridget minamore is a writer, poet and journalist who has been working with tiata fahodzi as their new Digital Officer. If you’re a creative from the African diaspora who would like to write a tiatafahodzi.com guest blog, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org