Is the Guthrie Theater too white?

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Director Marion McClinton

MPR’s Euan Kerr has a story this evening on Pillsbury House theater’s latest production “In the Red and Brown Water” which is being staged at the Guthrie.

In the course of the story, Director Marion McClinton makes a pointed comment:

“It’s hard to find a black actor on the stage. It’s hard to find a black actor as an usher there. And that’s sad.”

Kerr contacted the Guthrie Theater press office to get their response. They point to productions like Caroline, or Change and The Scottsboro Boys, as well as their hosting of production by Penumbra Theater as proof to the contrary.

Actress Sonja Parks says this show different; she says she’s tired of productions about African-Americans always being about being downtrodden.

What do you think? Does a show about “the downtrodden African-American” keeping us from truly forwarding racial equality? Could the Guthrie do a better job of presenting racial equality on its stage?

  • Christopher Kehoe

    White directors (throughout the Cities) need to stop being skittish about producing work by black playwrights. When the historical low point is slavery, a mediocre production of “Fences” is still an overall improvement.

    Do I expect the Guthrie to produce Adrienne Kennedy’s “Funnyhouse of a Negro” or anything Kia Corthon? No. But that doesn’t mean every other commonly-white theatre company should be off the hook, either. Put out the casting notice early if need be, and invest in a ace dramaturg.

  • Barry Wegener

    The Guthrie does a wonderful job of including non-white productions on its stages. The two shows referenced are recent offerings, but the list is greater: witness Heaven, Cowboy vs. Samurai, Ella, M. Butterfly, After A Hundred Years, The Great Game. The arrangement with Penumbra is a great collaboration merging the efforts of black artists with the established presence of the best-known area theater on arguably the best stages in the Twin Cities.

    Putting on plays is hard work, but it’s child’s play compared with running a solvent theater. Cultivating a sensitive, culturally-aware, intelligent audience must be balanced against meeting payroll and paying the heating bill. Recent events have seen the fall of at least a couple of long-running theaters in the area.

    With more theater seats per capita than any other part of the country save New York City, the Twin Cities can be proud of the great diversity of theater offerings in the area. From the ridiculous to the sublime, high to no production value, classics to new works, black or white or Asian or Native American, touring companies to local talent, well-produced to thrown together, urban and suburban, the Twin Cities has a lot. And the Guthrie, in my opinion, does a grand job of providing high-quality productions of plays that span the spectrum of interests from classics to contemporary, from box office boffo to thoughtful pieces with targeted appeal.

    The combined theater offerings in the Twin Cities offer a rich tapestry of plays and productions. One need only seek them out to find a show with personal appeal.