A White Invention? Theatre, Race, and the Janet Suzman Fiasco

I wanted to highlight this really thoughtful response to Janet Suzman’s comments from teaching fellow and researcher, Sarah Pett. Her points on whether a play entrenches or interrogates racial identities/issues is something a lot of theatre writers miss. Definitely something I’d like to explore further.

Also do read this by Megan Vaughan on tumblr writing about audience development:

“I spend a lot of time thinking about my place within this whole audience development game. I think about it with my blog and with tweeting about the work I see. I look at what Maddy and Jake are doing with Dialogue, and how they’re trying to level a playing field for audiences as well as theatremakers. And then Vinay and Naima speak about what it’s like the walk into a theatre building with dark skin, and Alice tells me how someone she’s been talking to for 2 years has finally contributed to her capital campaign. And I’m like: I’ve been going about this all wrong….” http://synonymsforchurlish.tumblr.com/post/105349007048/my-housemate-works-in-arts-fundraising-shes-very

Sarah Pett

“Theatre is a white invention, a European invention, and white people go to it. It’s in their DNA. It starts with Shakespeare.”

Two days ago, on 9 December, the Guardian attributed the above statement to Janet Suzman, an actor of South African origin best known in the UK for her work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and in South Africa for directing a multi-racial production of Othello at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre in the mid-1980s.* Responses to this statement have understandably ranged from furious to bemused, with figures from Ben Okri to Meera Syal to Nadia Latif to Bonnie Greer expressing shock, disappointment, and disgust at the ignorance and racism that might reasonably be seen to underpin sentiments of this sort. I say might, because the exact circumstances of Suzman’s statement remain unclear, leaving room for misrepresentation and decontextualization. And yet, perhaps even this generosity is misplaced, as Suzman’s reply

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