BLAQN explores and exposes racism in Michigan theater
DEARBORN, Mich.–Black Literature and Art Queens Network (BLAQN) debuted its podcast “Black Queens on Stage” (BQS) June 19, 2020, and included a 2.5 hour conference hosted by BLAQN founder Ashley Lyle concerning issues including “Code Switching,” “Micro-Agression” and “Silence.”
Code-switching: The way people of color act around one another, versus the way they act around white people. Actor Dan Johnson described it as a “job interview” facade that black people put on to acclimate into a predominantly or entirely white group.
Micro-Aggression: Instances when white actors and directors thrust expectations onto black actors as they see black characters. “Be more urban” was a note that Johnson got. Dinah Tutein related examples of how a director queried her about what she would do with her hair. Actress Bryanna Hall told of a white directors/actors who slip into black speak and referring to her as “girlfriend” for no particular reason. Ashley Lyle told of a white director who gave her a note to be more excited, “but not Baptist Church excited.”
Silence: The practice among black actors to stay silent when they are victims of micro-aggression and other forms of disrespect rather than rock the boat or stand out in a mostly or entirely white environment.
The conference was spurred by the current wave of protests around racism and race relations that started following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer that was recorded in real time. The whole country is talking about race, and BLAQN rightly decided the time is right and ripe to talk about it in Michigan, especially while the community is in a pause because theaters are closed due to the COVID-19.
The conference is billed as a “safe place” for the conference leaders to tell their stories and express their points of view freely with no ill-will from theaters or directors.
The featured panel is Dinah Tutein, Bryana Hall, Dan Johnson, Mike Sandusky, Jonathan Jones, and the CEO, Founder & Host of the podcast, Ashley M. Lyle.
To listen to the conference, go to this link.
Advice from he group for white actors and directors who don’t want to be part of the problem: If you pause in your mind to wonder if what you’re about to say is racist, then don’t say it. Self police. The crux of the pain that black actors experience is, according to Johnson, if a black actor speaks up, expresses offense over a micro-aggression or several micro-aggressions, will that actor be separated from the rest of the cast? Will he or she be talked about as being “difficult.”
Jonathan Jones expresses frustrations in being talked to differently than white actors by white directors and white assistant directors. Mike Sandusky says he finds directors approach him with more caution in notes than white actors, a situation which tilts the energy of the rehearsals in an unhealthy way.
“This conference is landmark for Michigan theatre in my opinion,” says EncoreMichigan editor David Kiley. “I have been directly involved in productions with black actors, and all of us know there is often an unspoken uneven energy especially descending from white directors.” Said Kiley, “It’s just there…it feels like Middle School in my New Jersey hometown sometimes where black students all sat at the same lunch-table. It’s in the air a lot, and this conference is an amazing step to clearing the air.”
Every actor and director, and critic will be better and smarter for hearing this conversation…what they do with the takeaway is up to them.