art, politics, theater

Bart Sher to direct August Wilson? Really?

I am very surprised to have to report that Bartlett Sher, artistic director of the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, will be the first white director to ever direct a Broadway production of one of August Wilson’s plays – JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE at Lincoln Center next spring.

All previous Broadway productions of Wilson’s work have been directed by black directors. The NYT and Playbill reports of this news failed to note this fact, focusing instead on Sher’s recent Tony for South Pacific. I got this news from ArtsJournal, who got it from the Pioneer Press, out of Minneapolis.

Some responses:

This is another way of saying that the dominant culture knows more about us than we know about ourselves.
Actor James Williams

I’m still a little troubled by the decision. Racial representation in theater (at least in New York) has not improved much since the Wilson-Brustein debates. Other than LaMaMa’s Ellen Stewart, there is not a single artistic director of color at a major New York theater, 80 percent of plays produced in New York are by white men despite the fact that white men account for roughly 15 percent of New York City’s population, casts remain segregated, and black directors rarely get tapped to direct plays by white writers.
– from critic Isaac Butler’s comments in the Time Out New York blog.

The issue, of course, is access — if Lincoln Center won’t hire a black director to direct an August Wilson play, what will they hire a black director to do? I get that Sher is the resident director, he’s on staff, he’s done big things for them before, and I get (and kind of think it’s great) that he’d want to direct a Great American Play to follow up his Great American Musical (South Pacific) — and it’s wonderful that Wilson’s work is considered to fill that role. But if the door doesn’t open for directors here, where does it open?
– playwright & blogger Kristoffer Diaz