A multiethnic panel of professional actors will talk about the arts and cultural diversity Friday afternoon at Baylor University’s Mabee Theatre in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center.
The panel discussion is free and open to the public.
Participating are moderator Sam Henderson, a Baylor theater lecturer and former Jubilee Theatre director; actor, poet and playwright Dael Orlandersmith, a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist who performed her “Black N Blue Boys / Broken Men” two years ago in Waco; actor and director Sheila Tousey (“Law and Order,” “Into The West”); actor and director James Yaegashi (“Man On A Ledge”); and theater educator and advocate Brisa Munoz (artistic director of the Applied Theatre Collective).
Stan Denman, chairman of Baylor’s Department of Theatre Arts, said the discussion is meant to address issues that sometimes crops up on questions of casting of ethnically identifiable roles, presentation of stories and subjects from differing cultures and the like.
It’s a subject particularly pertinent to both Baylor, with a largely white student population, and the Baylor theater department, whose majors generally reflect the school’s ethnic makeup. A scarcity of non-white student actors constrains the department’s ability to reflect and teach theater’s cultural diversity.
“In theater, we feel plays are incomplete without a performance,” he said.
However, having white actors stage works by black playwrights such as August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry would demonstrate an insensitivity to the cultural worlds and messages of those writers. At the same time, one would not want to confine student actors to play only characters of their ethnicity or background, he added.
The issue of racial diversity in Hollywood found a national discussion at this year’s Academy Awards, where the lack of actors of color among the acting awards nominees led to complaints of a “white-washed Oscars.” Denman feels it’s a question that should be raised and addressed earlier on. “The solution is found in education, not Hollywood,” he said. “We want to begin the conversation and it’s one that needs to be happening in largely white institutions.”
Panel members will share their personal experiences and their opinions, with Henderson asking questions submitted earlier by Baylor students and faculty.
In addition to the Friday afternoon discussion, panelists will lead Baylor theater student workshops at 7 p.m. Friday and 9:30 a.m. Saturday.