As performances of A Rap on Race continue at Seattle Repertory Theatre, the organization is dealing with a “racially charged incident” that took place during the run of Kimber Lee’s brownsville song (b-side for tray), a Brooklyn-set play about a young African American man who is shot dead in a gang-related incident.
According to Seattle publication The Stranger, a cast member for brownsville song overhead a stagehand using the n-word backstage over the theatre’s intercom system. The cast issued the below statement to The Stranger in response to an inquiry over the matter:
“You have been informed correctly. There was a racially charged incident that took place during the run of Brownsville Song. It was initially mishandled, however, it is our belief as a cast that the theatre is moving in the right direction. The steps needed to correct the situation are being taken by SRT. They are promising to implement any and all procedures and policies that were not in place to safeguard against the likelihood of such an incident recurring.”
The statement goes on to say that the incident and the theatre's subsequent handling have provided an opportunity for SRT to learn and grow and be at the forefront of the race and equality conversation. “The THEATRE is changing. The stories being told are changing and we must challenge our institutions to be flexible and adapt with these changes. We commend SRT for taking those first steps.”
The stagehand told The Stranger that he was talking about a line in the play’s dialogue, in which he thought a pause might represent the n-word. In light of the theatre's zero tolerance for hate speech, artistic director Braden Abraham and managing director Jeffrey Herrmann have reportedly put the said stagehand on paid administrative leave through the summer, and will allow him return to work in the fall. According to The Stranger, not all staff members were happy with the decision to allow him to return, however, citing that a zero tolerance policy should, in fact, mean zero tolerance.