American Players artists discuss how to make theater that 'represents the evolving America'

Posted August 9, 2019

Cap Times Talk 2019

By Natalie Yahr, The Cap Times, August 8, 2019

American Players Theatre, the renowned Spring Green company, is entering its fifth decade. On Tuesday, the company’s first black core acting company member said he would like to set the record straight about what "classic" theater really means. 

It’s not all about “white writers and white plays and white men,” Gavin Lawrence said at a Cap Times Talk. “Classical theater started in ancient Egypt before Alexander the so-called Great took it."

At Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Madison’s south side, a panel including Lawrence and other professional theater artists and educators discussed how established theater companies like APT might tell more diverse stories. 

Cap Times theater critic Lindsay Christians, who moderated the discussion, noted at the start that “diversity is about so much more than ethnicity, skin color and cultural background,” but that the panel would focus on “stories that come out of the African American experience.”

Other talks at next month’s Cap Times Idea Fest will address other aspects of onstage diversity.

Some theater companies talk about increasing diversity and apply for grants to fund those efforts but “aren't really doing it,” Lawrence said. “Bringing in one black play or playwright or writer of color per season is not diversifying. It's tokenism."

By contrast, Lawrence said, APT is “looking to create a company of actors and theater professionals, as well as an audience, that represents the evolving America that we are all a part of.” 

In his more than 30 years as an actor, Lawrence said he's found no other theater company working toward that goal.

“That's my passion,” Lawrence said. “I am an artist who happens to be a man of color, and the things that I'm passionate about have to do with my people, have to do with my children, have to do with them seeing their images reflected back to them.”

Read the full article here!