Mykal Kilgore took to Facebook June 2 to add his voice to those of the Black theatre community in demanding more from Broadway and theatrical institutions and for White theatremakeres to “change your mind” and alter racist behavior in the theatre.
“Broadway, she's racist,” Kilgore says in his Facebook Live video. “And it’s little things, it’s big things, it’s a lot of things and right now Broadway is closed down. Great equalizer. There is no Broadway right now. Black folx, are we running back when this is over? What do we want? Protests are happening everywhere, change is in the air. It's palpable. What do we want?”
Kilgore made his Broadway debut as a replacement in the 2009 Broadway revival of Hair. He then appeared in the ensemble of Broadway’s Motown The Musical, and his voice can be heard as part of the virtual chorus in Dear Evan Hansen. But he took center stage at New York City Center’s presentation of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World; he also appears on the revival cast recording of the song cycle. He has performed multiple concerts with Brown at downtown’s SubCulture and released his solo album A Man Born Black in September 2019. Television audiences have seen him as part of the casts of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert and The Wiz Live!.
Myriad Black artists have taken this time to publicly reflect on their past treatment in the theatrical workplace and say that they will no longer turn the other cheek to racist behavior, be it overt or micro-aggressive. “I don't have the answers but I do know there are a few things I'm not comfortable doing anymore and I hope that I'm not alone in that feeling,” he says. “I feel like we have got to get to a place where we feel comfortable with saying no to the things that hurt our community with the depictions of ourselves that are one dimensional. Because there is good and bad and high and low within the community, but I'll be damned if I spend my whole life standing in the back row on 12 because as a director you haven't found a creative way to include Black people into the world of the show and you're trying your best to hide us and you're trying your best to not have us steal focus. I think an easy way to make sure that we're not stealing focus is to make sure there's more than just one of us, because you put one Black body on a stage full of white people, guess where my eye's going?
“I hate the use of Black and brown people as props,” he continues. “I hate the idea of colorblind casting because that's saying that there's no color and that's not gonna work. There is color. So, color-inclusive is the way to go.
“And the same way I hate 'all lives matter,' this whole idea of theatre for all and let's create for all, white people have never had a problem with theatre being created for them. We don't have to do that. We don't have to serve Whiteness in that way.”
Kilgore expands his thoughts to ask why Black artists and artist of color are so often told their work isn’t marketable. “I think we need to focus on the fact that there are great Black, Asian, brown, female, Native American, Middle Eastern writers, creatives, composers. Why isn’t their work being produced?” he asked “We’ve proven time and time again that when you put different perspectives on the stage, people are more than happy to go and watch it to go to see it so let’s do that.”
The performer then divulged specific personal experiences as examples of racist behavior. He noted a time when White castmates were heard when they complained about hair cuts by Black members of the hair department, yet he was deemed difficult when he voiced concern about a White hairdresser cutting his hair. “Black people don't get to say this isn't satisfactory,” he says, “and white people do.”
So what is a solution? Kilgore suggests Black actors demand more:
“You are worth so much more. You're so much better. You bring so much beauty and light and experience and intellect into the room and they steal that—they mine all of your gold—and they give you zero credit for it. For years we let them do it.”
He asks casting directors, directors, and producers to expand their imaginations:
“I want to be more of a Bernadette Peters than I've ever wanted to be just a random screamer. I want to emote and tell the tale and milk every last lyric,” he pleads. “But when I'm called upon to sing, ‘Can you hit the high note? How high can you sing?’ Who cares how high I can sing? Really. ... We've got to do better than that. So what do we do? What do we ask for? Who do we go to?”
If you are a non-Black theatremaker working with Black artists, Kilgore implores you stop the following:
“You use our Blackness, you use our culture, you use our history, and sometimes you even have the nerve to dig into our pain and say bring that onto the stage. How dare you. Because you don't respect it. If you spent any time respecting it treasuring it, making real space for it, and the reason I know that you don't is because we have been doing this for a long time and now....
“Change your mind. Change you mind about what you think is appropriate for Broadway. Change your mind about what you think a Black person should or shouldn't do. Change your mind about how high you think a Black person can go. Change your mind about what a leading man looks like, a leading woman looks like. Change your mind when you want to say ‘sass,’ ‘street,’ ‘urban,’ ‘ethnic.’ Change your mind. Because we made our mind up. We're tired of this.”
Watch Kilgore’s full Facebook video statement below: