All the World's a Stage
by Shelley MacAskill
Theatre@First is starting a new program called All the World’s a Stage, a monthly discussion group for plays by BIPOC authors, both American and international. The goal is to broaden readers’ horizons beyond the largely white American- and European-centric theater we’ve seen and read our entire lives. We’ll discuss these works as book clubs often do—things we liked, things we didn’t, who our favorite/least favorite character was. We’ll hopefully also discuss the differences and parallels to our own cultural experiences, and what influences race, ethnicity, religion, and culture have in forming the characters and driving the plot in ways that we may not have expected.
What led me to want to form this group?
I’ve told this story many times before to friends: Several years ago, a listicle came across my Facebook feed discussing “10 essential plays everyone should read,” or something like that. Okay, I thought, I’m a theater nerd, I’ll bite. I forget the exact plays and authors, but I remember they were eight dead white men, one living white man, and one living Black American woman--maybe the only daring choice on the list, as most people who think “Black American woman playwright” think of the sadly long-departed Lorraine Hansberry. (For the record, the playwright was Suzan-Lori Parks, for her work The America Play.)
I found the list… troubling. Granted, it’s somewhere between foolhardy and impossible to distill thousands of years of drama to only ten “essential” plays, but… nothing from outside the US and Europe? No acknowledgment of Japanese Kabuki and Noh theater? What about Korea, China, and the rest of Asia? I’m sure there are noteworthy Middle Eastern playwrights. There must be someone in the whole continent of Africa…
And I realized: I didn’t know any authors or plays from any of those cultures, either, so maybe I was expecting too much from a throwaway article written by someone with probably a very similar educational and theater background as mine. I liked to think of myself as well-read; I guess I wasn’t. I decided to educate myself.
Since then, I’ve become passionate about world theatre. I’ve collected and read works by playwrights from Japan, Korea, China, Nigeria, South Africa, India, Egypt, Lebanon, etc. I also realized I was ignoring diverse voices closer to home—BIPOC American playwrights such as Rajiv Joseph, Quiara Alegría Hudes, and Jackie Sibblies Drury; onto the reading list they went. Worlds, lives, voices of all kinds that I’d never experienced before filled the pages. I want to share those thrilling journeys with you.
There’s an entire beautiful world of theatre out there, and whether or not you choose to join our discussion group, I encourage you to seek it out.
If you are interested in joining the group, please visit our website to sign up.