WAMC has highlighted Chester Theatre Company in a thoughtful story about the upcoming theatre season and the focus on BIPOC voices. We’ve included excerpts below.
To listen or read the full article, click here.
Summer Theater In 2021 Gives Voice To Artists Of Color
As we approach May, it becomes clear not only that there will be live theater this summer, but there is now clarity on how it will be offered.
It will be, as much as is possible, presented outdoors. Small cast shows will prevail and COVID protocols will be in effect. For audiences, that means masks, temperature taking, social distancing, contact tracing – and in some cases, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of a performance.
There will be smaller cast shows, few intermissions and theaters will operate with a limited seating capacity. Musicals will be replaced by concerts and revues. Overall, there will be fewer shows offered, but many will have longer runs so as to maximize attendance figures and revenue flow.
But once the how has been decided, the what becomes important. A challenge for artistic directors has been deciding the content of what is offered. What are audiences willing to pay to see?
If there is a consensus about anything in regard to programming, it is that audiences do not want plays having anything to do with COVID. People are not ready to see work about a situation from which they are seeking relief. A certain segment of theater producers will grant that wish and only offer froth and escapist fun.
However, not all theater artists are ready to give up the heart of a live theater experience – which is recreating honest life-experiences on the stage. A quick overview of the season planned for the summer of 2021, appears to be a compromise between offering the public the light-hearted entertainment it is seeking, and being true to the social conscience of the art form. Most summer seasons are a mixed bag between music, comedy and plays that address social issues.
On the social awareness front, the issue that has not been forgotten is the Black Lives Matter movement.
Almost every area company is scheduling at least one play about African-American social problems and are featuring more actors of color. Diversity seems to have finally found its rightful place in theater.
Chester Theatre Company is, this year, offering three plays under a tent at Hancock Shaker Village. “Niceties,” which plays July 14-25, is about a black female student studying at an elite liberal art college. One day she gets called into her white professor’s office to discuss her paper on how slavery affected the American Revolution. Soon, discussion turns to heated, hurtful debate. The company describes the work as being about “who gets to tell the story of America and how.”
It is important to note, this scheduling is not tokenism. The issues are not only about how racism affects the African-American community. Actually, the works, many world premieres, are giving voice to artists are explaining how the problems of people of color are truly an American problem. If for no other reason, the summer of 2021 promises to be a meaningful season.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.