The Quest to Make San Diego’s Theater Audiences Less White - Voice of San Diego

Arts/Culture UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

The Quest to Make San Diego’s Theater Audiences Less White

Michael 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.

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.”

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.”

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