Jerry Rapier has been Artistic Director of Plan-B Theatre Company since 2000. He directs …OF COLOR, premiering Mach 28-April 7, 2019 his thirty-third full production for the company, not counting myriad Script-In-Hand Series readings, revivals and 10-minute plays. The following also appears in the March 2019 issue of Catalyst Magazine.
“Life is learning to hold paradox.” – from “The Frailest Thing” by Bijan Hosseini
If I hear one more person say “I don’t see color” I might lose my mind.
Because it’s not true.
It’s just a thing people say when they want other people to see them as progressive.
Let me rephrase that: It’s a thing white people say when they want people of color to see them as progressive.
You will never hear a person of color use that phrase.
Because it’s not true.
Nor should it be.
What matters is what you do with what you see.
Think “color conscious” not “color blind.”
I will tell you right now that when I enter a room, the first thing I do – I have always done – is scan the room and take a headcount of the other people of color.
Because I feel a pressure to act differently if I am the only non-white person in the room. And I have yet to talk to another person of color who does not do the same thing. Call it POC-GPS. If there’s more than one of us, we intuitively split The Load of Representation, aka The Expectation of White People That People Of Color Represent Their Entire Race And, In Certain Situations, All Non-White Folks.
I am tired of not seeing myself in narratives on stage, television, in print, in film, in conversation.
I am tired of diversity and inclusion – excuse me: Diversity & Inclusion, capital D, capital I – being reduced to boxes to be checked off to help white folks feel like they’re doing The Work.
I am tired of “good intentions” excusing ignorance.
And so, as a Gaysian with a theatre company, I’m doing something about it. I am good at making theatre, specifically helping playwrights find, use and celebrate their voices.
And that, my friends, is a really long introduction to …OF COLOR.
In June of 2017, we at Plan-B hosted the first-ever gathering of Theatre Artists of Color in Salt Lake City to: (1) get to know each other and create a stronger network, (2) provide a space to discuss the challenges of working as theatre artists of color in and around Salt Lake City and (3) to dig deep to see what stories we are able to authentically explore onstage in future seasons and how best to diversify who writes, performs and designs them.
Fifty-one artists attended that June gathering. The desire to tell stories authentically was at the forefront of the conversation. I committed right then and there to organize a free writing workshop for the attendees who expressed interest, suggesting Julie Jensen as the instructor but, given the nature of the group, asked candidly if a non-POC playwright should teach this workshop. It was unanimously agreed that each potential participant was anxious to learn the craft from Utah’s most produced playwright.
Julie immediately agreed to lead the first iteration of Plan-B’s Theatre Artists of Color Writing Workshop nearly 18 months ago for the eight folks who signed up. Halfway through it I commented, “This is like a mini-MFA.” Julie replied, “Yes, yes it is.” A week later Julie emailed me: “The work we heard last night was amazing. I’ve never had a group like this, this good, ever! Just you wait.” I replied, “If they’re as good as you say, we’ll commit to a full production.”
And here we are.…OF COLOR is unlike anything ever undertaken in the history of Utah theatre. Not only is it the world premiere of four short plays by four Utah playwrights of color, each making their playwriting debut, it includes Utah’s first world premieres by Latina and Persian playwrights.
Olivia Custodio’s “Drivers License, Please” is a dark comedy about rental cars, rednecks and finding your voice. Iris Salazar’s “American Pride” is a very, very dark comedy about making America great again. Darryl Stamp’s “Roar” is a dramedy about stand-up comedy. And Bijan Hossein’s “The Frailest Thing” is a drama about the line between wanting to live and not wanting to die.
In the theatre, we talk about the color of language, the way performance and subtext bring color to a text. I invite you to be the first to experience these stories created by African American, Brazilian, Mexican and Persian/Japanese playwrights. Stories told by African American, Japanese, Honduran/Filipino and Puerto Rican actors and a Japanese director. Stories by and about people of color.
Don’t blind yourself to color onstage.
Consciously look and listen.
Color begets color.
Jerry Rapier has been Artistic Director of Plan-B Theatre Company since 2000. He directs …OF COLOR, his thirty-third full production for the company (not counting myriad Script-In-Hand Series readings, revivals and 10-minute plays), premiering March 28-April 7.