J. Bernard Calloway has been The Grinch in The Old Globe’s production of the Christmas classic for the last two years. Under all that green makeup, Calloway is black.

The Old Globe’s summer production of “Macbeth” featured several actors of color in leading roles, including Marsha Stephanie Blake, a black woman, as Lady Macbeth.

The Globe’s artistic director, Barry Edelstein, has emphasized “race neutral casting,” and it shows, said Michael Taylor, an Old Globe board member.

Taylor also applauded The Globe’s effort to take its theater offerings off the stage and into San Diego’s diverse neighborhoods. The theater company hired Freedome Bradley-Ballentine in 2015 and tasked him with finding ways to engage San Diego communities through unconventional programs in new settings.

But Taylor, one of two black members of The Globe’s board, is embarking on a new plan: to make sure the theater’s diverse main-stage shows are seen by a diverse audience.

“If you were to go to almost any play there at The Old Globe, the audience doesn’t necessarily reflect the full San Diego community,” Taylor said. “Each time you go into the theater, you look around at the audience and you see just a handful of people who look like me.”

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

In October, Taylor launched San Diego Black Renaissance, promoting diversity and inclusion. In December, he teamed with The San Diego Voice and Viewpoint, a publication directed to the black community, for an event inviting leaders from San Diego’s black community to meet staffers from The Old Globe.

It’s the first in a series of planned events intended to build a relationship between the theater and San Diego’s black community. Taylor said he didn’t try to convince attendees of the theater’s value; rather, he tried to learn why they aren’t going to shows already.

He’d like to learn if more diverse programming, lower ticket prices or more artists of color on stage will attract a more diverse crowd. But first, he wanted to get The Globe and members of the black community in the same room.

“This is what can happen when you diversify your board,” he said. “They bring in new, fresh ideas. I just want to get down and dirty and take a look at this thing to figure out, well, why don’t you see any black people in the audience? This is an important thing to figure out. For whatever reasons those are, we can talk about this.”

Taylor isn’t alone in his quest for inclusion. The Theatre Diversity Think Tank is a new group of local theater industry insiders like Jaime Castañeda of La Jolla Playhouse, Eric Keen-Louie of The Old Globe, Delicia Turner Sonnenberg of Moxie Theatre and others who get together to talk about involving more people of color in San Diego theater, whether as actors on stage, theater staff or audience members.

Castañeda, who moved to San Diego from New York just over two years ago, likes what he sees when he takes informal surveys of the local theater scene’s diversity, but said bigger demographic shifts will start happening when theater companies start staging new work by people of color. That’s something that’s already starting to happen more often, he said.

“I continue to make the argument that if you produce work by artists of color and artists that celebrate that and represent that … my sense is that the audiences will come,” he said. “And as the demographics of the country do continue to change we’ll, of course, see a new generation of theatergoers.”

    This article relates to: Arts Entertainment, Arts/Culture

    Written by Kinsee Morlan

    Kinsee Morlan is the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. She works to expand our reach and helps community members write op-eds. She also manages VOSD’s podcasts and covers the arts, culture, land use and entrepreneurs. Contact her directly at kinsee.morlan@voiceofsandiego.org. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to her podcast.

    Jorge Serrano
    Jorge Serrano

    A generation ago, Mr Taylor would have worn a dashiki rather than an ascot when calling for more "relevance" in the arts. Has our situation improved? Race-neutral casting seems to me to be even more outré than the dashiki … if Jackie Chan might play Othello, then why not get "gender" neutral and cast Ben Stein as Desdemona.

    Western culture was a product of Western civilization, and may it return to us someday reborn. Until then, the Globe is going to get more butts in seats only by giving the local market what it wants to see: Snooki and Milo and Netflix. If you're going to do Shakespeare, then do it the way William would have wanted … if you're going to do Ionesco, do it the way Eugène would have wanted … and may political correctness be damned to the hell that it came from.

    Kenneth Gardner
    Kenneth Gardner

    Are you getting a cut of the federal grants, Kinsee? Better hurry up, because the ones for racist bs like this are going away very soon.

    Johnny Pappas
    Johnny Pappas subscribermember

    How about making theater more accessible to lower income people of all races instead.  

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    My experience has been, after decades of attending both Old Globe and San Diego Repertory Theater, that there are a lot of black performers and some content that tells stories about black people, so that's not the answer to Mr. Taylor’s concern about the audience.

    If Mr. Taylor would attend any "Rap" concert, he might find even greater "disparity" in the substantial black audience.  Before we embark on another  "inclusiveness" boondoggle, maybe he could consider the factor of personal preference, or as the founders of our nation might put it, "free choice".

    rhylton subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw I stopped paying attention until recently, but the majority of "Rap" listeners were and may still be white-skinned. I may be wrong, in the expectation but the attendees should co-relate to listeners. That would still allow for a "substantial" black-skinned audience. 

    I love this foolishness.

    GK subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw I'm not sure what disparity you're referring to in the audiences of rap, R&B, etc.  NWA owned white suburban teens to the immense horror of 80's parents.  The present-day audiences of artists like Rihanna, Kanye, Drake, Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Beyonce, et al.  transcend racial boundaries.  That's how they get filthy rich.     I tentatively suggest you're projecting your own artistic tastes as typical of your racial demographic when they may be more typical of your age demographic. :)   Although by now a lot of old-school rap fans are getting closer to Social Security age.  

    Oscar Ramos
    Oscar Ramos subscribermember

    Last time I went to the Old Globe, I couldn’t help but think that the organization must be just a few years away from financial disaster, given the apparent age and race of the average person in the audience. In fact, I think all of our cultural institutions would be wise to set themselves up for the future by making more inroads into San Diego’s black and brown communities.

    I’ve seen diverse audiences turn out to support high-quality theater that reflected the experiences of people of color. Mo’olelo put on some great shows in the past, Kita y Fernanda in particular. Moxie’s The Bluest Eye was amazing. San Diego Opera also put on two incredible mariachi operas. To their credit, they collaborated with Mexico’s best mariachi, Mariachi Vargas de Tecatitlán, who helped pack the house. Culture Clash’s production of El Henry in Makers Quarter a while back was also a hit with the audience, Latino and otherwise.

    I’m glad to see the Old Globe explore ways to become more diverse. I’m certainly ready to support works by artists of color. Lots of people are.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Oscar Ramos You must have gone on Wednesday afternoon, "Geezer Day", which my wife and I attend because the tickets are pretty cheap.  Only problem is that you have to show your Medicare card for entry.

    Bit-watcher subscriber

    What were the things he found as to why a more diverse group weren't coming?  I can imagine a few reasons, but what he found would certainly be useful to hear.  

    The reasons we've dropped our attendance at the Globe has more to the vulgarity of the material they present.  From an insider, we've also learned that once a piece is set, say, in a Shakespeare play, the cast take it upon themselves to go for the cheap laughs and emphasize the vulgarity (usually always present in any Shakespeare play) or insert vulgar behavior on their own.  

    Old.  Tired.  Boring. 

    In particular, the Globe has to look to its bottom line.  It needs attendees and subscriptions, besides donors.  If it gets too much in the way of donations, it can actually ignore its audience, the way the LJ Playhouse has done when they were starting out.  Having half the audience walk out of a show, or play to much less than a full house reflects on the material and the theater organization. 

    Susan Cox
    Susan Cox

    The only theater I've been to in San Diego that had a big African American audience is Community Actor's Theater. They do great work there! Maybe Old Globe could do an outreach event there and invite folks with a deep group discount?