The Visitor, A Week Before Starting, Pauses to Reflect and De-Center Whiteness

Off-Broadway News   The Visitor, A Week Before Starting, Pauses to Reflect and De-Center Whiteness
 
The new musical has delayed its first preview date amid conversations between company members, creatives, and Public Theater leadership.
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David Hyde Pierce and Ari'el Stachel Joan Marcus

The Visitor, a new musical by Tom Kitt, Brian Yorkey, and Kwame Kwei-Armah, has delayed its start date at The Public Theater, with the Off-Broadway venue citing a need for additional development time in light of “conversations and commitments around equity and anti-racism.” Performances will now begin October 14 (instead of October 7).

The Public says that the extra week will allow creatives to address areas of concern, brought up by company members to Public leadership, surrounding depictions of race and representation in the piece. “We’ve taken the time as a company to listen to each other and discuss, to respond to these issues, and to continue to develop The Visitor with changes that reflect how our broader culture has grown,” a statement reads.

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Kwame Kwei-Armah and Daniel Sullivan Joan Marcus

The Visitor marks the first mainstage production at The Public’s downtown home since the coronavirus pandemic. As the theatre—and countless others across the country—remained dark, national unrest over the killing of Black individuals led arts companies to reckon with the centering of white characters and artists, on and off their stages. This has included examinations not just of whose stories are being told, but by whom and through what lens.

The musical’s source material, based on the 2007 film by Tom McCarthy, follows a white college professor who, upon traveling to New York, encounters Tarek and Zainab, an immigrant couple from Syria and Senegal, respectively. Their interaction—and, eventually, the arrival of Tarek’s mother Mouna—brings to light the experiences and struggles of undocumented individuals seeking to make America a home.

A representative for the Public said that recent discussions have included the concern over the centering of a middle-aged white man as a protagonist in a story largely about immigrant experiences as well as assurances that cast members have access to resources to fully participate in telling these stories.

Previously, cast members have brought up their own concerns regarding elements of the show to creatives as early as developmental workshops. Ari’el Stachel, who plays Tarek, requested to director Daniel Sullivan that his character not speak with a Syrian accent, as to accurately reflect his formative years spent in the U.S. “My brown body needs to not be seen as an ‘other’ anymore,” the Tony Award winner told Playbill earlier this year. He recalled thinking, “I got to the point where I couldn’t separate the experiences I was having in the world with what I was doing on stage.” (Neither the show’s creators or director are of Middle Eastern descent.)

The musical was originally slated for The Public’s 2019–2020 season, though was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. The new lineup will continue in November with Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s cullud wattah’s, also rescheduled from last year.

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