The Whitest Place in America: The Musical Theatre?
A press release that came over the CFR transom during this past weekend seriously caught our attention. Sent out by that most intrepid of PR flacks, the irrepressible Judy Jacksina, here was the (long-ish) headline:
DAVID SISCO & LORENE PHILLIPS
THE DIRECTORY OF CONTEMPORARY THEATRE WRITERS
CHANGE ONLINE MUSIC SALES FOR THE NEXT DECADE
A STAR-STUDDED INAUGURAL CONCERT
FEATURING THE MUSIC OF THE PARTICIPATING WRITERS
WILL DEBUT JANUARY 21
SECOND STAGE THEATRE
THEATRE HISTORY IS ABOUT TO BE MADE
Wow, that’s quite momentous! Theatre history is about to be made! Aside from the screaming all-caps (well, what can ya do, she’s a publicist!), we thought: Cool! It really is about time there was some online resource connecting and promoting the many-splendored writers making work in the American musical theatre. After all, how many times have you seen some posting on some site (we’re talking to you, posting people on All That Chat at Talkinbroadway.com) where someone writes “I need to reach so-and-so” and someone replies “Here’s how you reach them,” and unless you’re a stalker it’s all white noise?
Here’s a little more on the directory, courtesy of Jacksina:
THE DIRECTORY OF CONTEMPORARY THEATRE WRITERS is a first.
It is an exhaustive resource for anyone interested in our current musical theatre’s vast wealth of contemporary composers and lyricists.
Vetted by respected veterans, vocal coaches, music professors and teachers, the DIRECTORY offers direct access to 150 composers and lyricists whose mostly unpublished or self-published songs are an incalculable treasure of opportunity for theatre professionals, voice teachers, students and anyone auditioning for a Broadway show who are interested in presenting themselves with a song written exactly for their needs.
The DIRECTORY’S 150 writers have, to date, contributed over 360 songs that are catalogued into 25 different categories from light soprano, high belt, and dramatic up-tempo to pop/rock ballad, story song and comedic funk.
…THE DIRECTORY OF CONTEMPORARY THEATRE WRITERS is clearly an idea whose time has come.
An Annual Subscription to THE DIRECTORY OF CONTEMPORARY THEATRE WRITERS costs $49.95.
All songs are sold directly by the writers themselves. The DIRECTORY does not take a penny from the writer’s sales.
Again, please just ignore the hyperbolic cap-happy copy and now, if you would, please focus on the image below. What do you notice?
It’s really white, right?
To be clear, we’re not accusing anyone of anything, least of all Sisco and Phillips, who are obviously doing musical theatre writers a superb and admirable service, and we hope everyone makes a lot of money together.
But boy oh boy, when we look at the image above, we’re struck by how very, very, very white this directory is. Coming on the heels of a recent report from the Broadway League, called The Demographics of the Broadway Audience 2011-2012, which found that 78% of all theatregoers were Caucasian and comparatively rich compared to the rest of the country (average annual household income: $193,800!), this directory is positively a whiter shade of white.
Does this make anyone uncomfortable?
Does anyone actually notice how overwhelmingly monochromatic our musical theatre is?
Does anyone ever actively say to themselves, “Gee, we all of us in the American theatre have an obligation to acknowledge our very, very, very whiteness and maybe we ought to suggest a meaningful, action-oriented dialogue to do something about it”?
It’s no one’s fault, necessarily — no one in the American theatre is really sitting around and barking, “Keep those people of color out of my musical theatre!” And one can always find non-white writers to point to (and include in the directory, we hope).
Our point is that if you look at the photo above, you really have to ask yourself this question: If there was caption below it reading “Here are some of the delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention,” would you absolutely, for sure, know the difference?
We think you wouldn’t.