There is a play showing in Melbourne, Australia, about Straight White Men’s privilege and guilt. It is in a prominent, central venue with deep red carpets and gleaming hand rails. Getting to the specific theatre within this large arts centre takes you through a rabbit’s warren. It is a substantial place.
Once you take your seat, a Black woman sits above, and to the side, of the stage. She provides a Black ladies hip hop playlist as the audience arrive. This may be unusual for this venue; a wake up call.
She descends and walks to centre stage. She performs an acknowledgement of country and Indigenous elders, and invites a call and response of ‘love’ and ‘respect’ for Indigenous people. She covers some venue announcements, and then returns to her spot. (She is fantastic, funny, and a powerful presence).
She then watches the play unfold below her, with her feminist gaze. She brackets the men’s scenes with her presence, which includes, pointedly, being the stagehand who ‘cleans up’ after them in order to set the next scene.
‘Complaints’ mean that a decision is made to turn the music that plays as the audience arrive down, mid-season, so that it is effectively inaudible.
The play doesn’t offer answers about inequality. In fact, it keeps ‘Straight White Men’ and their guilty plight centre stage while the Black woman watches them being featured. This makes what she doesn’t say, and the fact that she is not heard, striking.
It also makes the opening playlist very, very important.
Maybe it was season subscribers who complained, and management didn’t want to threaten revenue. Guess what? This is theatre, and it is meant to make you think. The title of the play signals this. The promotion for the play signals this.
Signs in the foyer warned of music and it was checked for Occupational Health and Safety Levels.
Black women are offended and trespassed upon every day. They are not considered. They are silenced. They are insulted. People do insensitive things around them all the time.
Was the issue sexual references or swearing in the songs? The actual volume? Surely the music is also a theatrical effect. What about when two actors, playing brothers, are doing fake sexual moves with each other? Is this also a provocative theatrical effect? Is it offensive? Is it censored?
The play is from the United States. This is the first time that this decision to back those who were offended, and not the work itself, has been taken.
What is the actual offence? Who is offended? And is this a good way to respond?
Support the play. Support your killer cast member. Support the wake up call.