The Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition forms – Consumer News

on Jun17

16 June 2017 | 3:27 pm

A group of Chicago actors and playwrights have formed the Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition, meant to “to stand up against discrimination and injustice.” The group’s founders include playwright Ike Holter and actors Sasha Smith, Kevin Matthews Reyes, Sydney Charles and Tony Santiago.

The coalition formed after a June 13 review by Chicago Sun-Times critic Hedy Weiss of “Pass Over,” now on stage at Steppenwolf Theatre. The play, by Antoinette Nwandu, remagines Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” with the plot revolving around two young African-American men. At one point in the play, a white policeman harrrasses the two men.

The point of controversy in the generally positive review was this:

“To be sure, no one can argue with the fact that this city (and many others throughout the country) has a problem with the use of deadly police force against African-Americans. But, for all the many and varied causes we know so well, much of the lion’s share of the violence is perpetrated within the community itself. Nwandu’s simplistic, wholly generic characterization of a racist white cop (clearly meant to indict all white cops) is wrong-headed and self-defeating. Just look at news reports about recent shootings (on the lakefront, on the new River Walk, in Woodlawn) and you will see the look of relief when the police arrive on the scene. And the playwright’s final scenes — including a speech by the clueless white aristocrat who appears earlier in the story — and who could not be more condescending to Steppenwolf’s largely white “liberal” audience — further rob the play of its potential impact.”

The coalition posted a petition on Change.org asking area theaters to stop giving free tickets to “critics who routinely review theater through a sexist and racist lens.” Smith says 40 theaters have agreed to do so, and that the coalition will release a list of them on June 19.

“We are a large coalition of people that are very fed up and have been for years,” says Holter. “This is 2017. We have a person who took a play and made it about her own views and opinions about black bodies and black suffering instead of the actual story,” he says. Weiss, he continues, can see whatever she wants and say whatever she wants. “But it’s up to the theaters to say ‘we don’t have to give a bigot a free ticket.'”

Sasha Smith says that some in the Chicago theater community have, over the years, reached out to Weiss and Sun-Times’ management. Weiss declines to be interviewed.

Smith says their next next step would be to urge local media to hire reviewers who are people of color and from the LGBTQ community. Currently, “you have one perspective reviewing several different realities on stage,” Smith says. “That’s a huge void.” Weiss is white, as is Chris Jones, the Chicago Tribune’s main theater critic. Weiss also reviews for WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” show.

Steppenwolf responded to Weiss’s review on its Facebook page. “Some of the critical responses from this work have been shocking—not because of the actual critique of the art, but in the way that the responses revealed at best the ignorance of the critic and at worst, a racial bias that, when captured in print, wounded many people of color in this community and their allies, and served as a horrendous reminder of how far we still have to come in terms of racial equity in this community,” the response read in part.

Ticket sales for “Pass Over,” which opened June 12, have “steadily increased” since the play began previews, says a Steppenwolf spokeswoman.

This is not the first time an advocacy group has formed in response to troubles in the city’s theater community. Not in Our House was established in 2015 to protect actors and theater workers from sexual harassment and discrimination. The advocacy group formed after an actress posted a lengthy essay on Facebook about harassment at local theaters.



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