Open Forum

Using racially diverse material

  • 1.  Using racially diverse material

    Posted 23 days ago

    I am looking for some advice when it comes to my Contemporary Theatre Scene Study Class.

    It's already a challenge having to teach in fully online, but I am confronted with another timely issue.

    I would really like them to study materials from BIPOC authors that reflect BIPOC lives. My issue is that my classroom has very little diversity. Being a scene study class, these students are expected to perform scenes from the plays we study. I know I cannot have most of these students play these parts, but I feel that to spread antiracism, they should have a better understanding of racism from the perspectives of August Wilson, Suzan-Lori Parks, Quiara Alegría Hudes, etc.

    What I am concerned with is that if we only study these academically, that may be perceived as selling the material short.

    I considered having them review famous recorded performances of works, but that still lacks in the truth of it. Lastly, I don't to make the BIPOC students feel singled out either.

    Any suggestions you may have are welcome.

    Thank you in advance,


    Jason Robert LeClair, MA
    Artist/Arts Educator
    Director, Thespian Troupe 7444
    Membership Chairperson of the Educational Theatre Association Rhode Island Chapter
    Beacon Charter High School for the Arts
    Woonsocket, RI

  • 2.  RE: Using racially diverse material

    Posted 22 days ago
    Jason, I retired in June 2019, so I can't speak directly to online teaching, but my classes did scenes from BIPOC playwrights, and I allowed monologues that were written for BIPOC characters to be performed by white students if the monologue did not mention race or ethnicity.  Students often told me these were the most impactful pieces they performed in class.

    For my classes, it started with building a community of learners respectful of each other's differences.  My heart goes out to those of you attempting to do this by way of Zoom boxes.

    The scenes were performed as part of various units.  If we were studying African American theatre, I told them they were playing Black characters and to read the words as on the page, not adding an accent.  Same for Hispanic/Chicano/Latinx plays.  I assigned or asked for volunteers for roles in 1 1/2 to 2-minute scene excerpts, then gave them 10 to 20 minutes to rehearse in separate duos or small groups as I moved around monitoring and answering questions.  I asked for students who spoke or were studying Spanish to do the more bi-lingual roles.  Students performed the scenes for each other, script in hand, then we discussed each.

    I tried to put each scene in its historical context.  For instance, the scene when Spence tells his family that he has been suspended from school in "Take a Giant Step" by Louis Peterson takes on a whole new gravity when you know that the play was first produced two years before Emmett Till was murdered.  It matters that Rose goes to see a woman instead of a (male) doctor to confirm her pregnancy in 1959's "A Raisin in the Sun."  Luis Valdez's "Zoot Suit" doesn't make much sense if students don't know what zoot suits looked like and what the Zoot Suit Riots were--but just about every student will relate to the scene where the kids are heading out for the evening and parents are upset about their provocative clothing.

    I did delete the "n word" from scenes because I couldn't bring myself to have white students say that in class.  I substituted [them], [him], etc., in the script excerpt and told students I had done that and why.

    I think allowing students in a class some familiarization with characters they will never be allowed to play on stage is a good thing.  It requires them to look for the points of commonality, intersectionality, between themselves and the characters.  It can be an awakening for white students, healing for students who have faced discrimination because of skin color or accent.

    All of the plays from which we performed excerpts were in our classroom reading library.

    I would be reluctant to do the described scene work on Zoom.  But I do believe that carefully selected one-minute monologues could be used for online work.

    C. J. Breland
    Retired Theatre Arts Educator
    Asheville NC

  • 3.  RE: Using racially diverse material

    Posted 22 days ago
    Not sure what your standards/limitations are in terms of language and "mature content," but here are some thoughts. You could take a look at "Appropriate" by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins -- all the characters are white -- and maybe pair it with a different play by another BIPOC playwright -- all students perform a scene from one of the two plays. I have not actually seen or read "Barbecue" by Robert O'Hara, but it got strong reviews when it played in New York, and it concerns a black family and a white family each confronting the same situation: a family member who is an addict. "Sweat" by Lynn Nottage has a mixed cast.

    If you are open to looking at plays written either for young(er) actors or young audiences, you can read most or all of the following scripts on the Playscripts website, which is what I did. They all have mixed casts.
    "Baltimore" by Kirsten Greenidge
    "This is Modern Art" by Idris Goodwin and Kevin Coval (mixed writing team) [would be interesting to have students explore the controversy sparked by one critic's review of the Steppenwolf production]
    "All-American Boys" (the playwrights are white women -- adapting the novel by Jason Reynolds, a black writer)

    Good luck!

    Cora Turlish
    Metuchen NJ

  • 4.  RE: Using racially diverse material

    Posted 17 days ago
    Hi Cora,

      Would any of these be appropriate for middle school?


    Shelby Burton
    Chicago IL

  • 5.  RE: Using racially diverse material

    Posted 16 days ago
    Hi Shelby! Of course, it depends on your school and your students, but I think the last two from that list would be great for middle school: "This is Modern Art" and "All-American Boys." "Baltimore" might also be good, but the characters are college students and some of the issues are a little bit more geared to that age, though the inciting incident being what one character considers a joke seems like it would suit middle school. Good luck!

    Cora Turlish
    Metuchen NJ

  • 6.  RE: Using racially diverse material

    Posted 12 days ago

    Here are some plays recommended to me in the past:

    Humans Remain by Robin Rice: A journalist encounters a hidden mixed race society in the hills of New Jersey and threaten their survival.

    Refraction of Light by Jean Klein: a returning African-American World War II veteran returns to Virginia hoping to find a more welcoming society; instead, he finds himself betrayed by the one person he had looked to as his mentor and guide.

     I hope this helps!

    Julie Danao-Salkin
    University of Miami
    Miami FL