Why We Must Make Space for Diverse Voices and Visions in American Theatre Now, More Than Ever

Playbill Pride   Why We Must Make Space for Diverse Voices and Visions in American Theatre Now, More Than Ever
 
Wendy C. Goldberg is the first woman to lead the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference in its 50 year history.
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Now, more than ever, our responsibility as artists to speak up and speak out is imperative.

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Wendy C. Goldberg
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

I've always felt a great sense of honor and privilege coming of age in the American Theater as a staff member attached to some of the most esteemed organizations for American playwrights and theater artists. First, at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and for the past fourteen seasons at The O'Neill's National Playwrights Conference. Aside from the prodigious history of these organizations, my work has allowed me the opportunity to examine how far we have come in the field and who we have not made space for… yet.

My work as an artistic director has been about making space for the most relevant voices, for the voices we had not yet heard from on American stages, and trying to always create the most diverse and eclectic season the country has seen in an effort to get those plays into production—somewhere. As a director, I've always made this a goal too; advocating to other artistic directors about work that I felt could speak to their community, that was of the moment, and could change lives.

As we approach the end of Pride month, this is a remarkable opportunity to reflect on some of the artists that came up with me in this journey, some of the mentors who grabbed my hand along the way too, all of whom have re-shaped the history of the American Theater.

It is also an opportunity to discuss how we, as a field, need to deal with some still very difficult statistics and realities, and ask ourselves: “Who else MUST we make space for?”

Representation inequities across the field are abundant. I am so buoyed by my colleagues who are speaking out about these issues and walking the walk in their work, many of whom I came up with these last 20 years in the theater and some of whom are just beginning what I know will be long careers.

Whether it be playwright and now television show runner superstar, Tanya Saracho (Fade) whose narratives revolve around queer latinx people, whose work also deals directly with class as well; or the trail blazing producer/writer/theater thinker Bonnie Metzgar in her long career at the Public Theater, making Joe's Pub a reality—an actual physical space that makes space for all styles of performance; or the impressive trans director Will Davis (Men on Boats) who sees the complexities of identity in all he does; or the formidable Lucy Thurber (Transfers), who has been showing us the class inequities in this country in her work for years—they are all artists I continue to want to make space for as we move forward in time.

The double-threat artistry of playwright-director Robert O’Hara, whose work deals with profound issues of race and sexuality (among other things)—I am now seeing echoes of in new writers coming to the O'Neill. His play, Insurrection: Holding History, paved that way. Director Leigh Silverman (Soft Power) for assembling the first all-female design team for a Broadway production—a great example of using her position of status for change. Scenic designers Rachel Hauck (Latin History for Morons) and Arnulfo Maldonado (School Girls/Indecent at The Guthrie), whose work has opened up dynamic and imaginative worlds for some of the most varied contemporary playwrights in America at this moment.

Through their work, they are also making space for others whose stories are unheard.

I always trace my sense of making space back to Paula Vogel who has always been in my corner, and I am not alone. Her generous spirit, which couples her commitment to telling some of the most dangerous and important stories in American theater—while also perfecting how to pass all of this knowledge down to the next generation of theater artists—has been, for me, a beacon.

We have a long way to go, but I hope for those of us who have access and who have status, that we will recognize this privilege and make space for voices and visions we need to hear.

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