If you're a theater-goer in Houston, you've probably seen Candice D'Meza. She's appeared in productions at the Alley, Catastrophic, Main Street, Stages, Rec Room and the Ensemble to name just a few.
Now what she wants to find out is exactly how much of an anomaly she and other actors of color are on stages in this town — a town constantly touted for its ethnic diversity. Not anecdotally. Not by eye balling it. But with concrete data.
Photo by Lawrence Elizabeth Knox
Her efforts, in tandem with several national efforts across the country
to seek more diversity in live theater, are not just aimed at the actors but also the playwrights, artistic directors, members of the board of directors, stage managers and crews. This is not only to make sure minorities are represented in those areas as well, but to better understand the possible bias that may occur when minority actors encounter no one who looks like them among the people who are running a particular show.
In Houston, she and her fellow theater professionals believe that 40 percent of all theater hires both on and off stage should be blacks and other minorities.
"If you don't have artistic directors who are people of color, the unconscious biases will affect the plays that are chosen; it will affect how they view the people they are casting," she said. "If you don't have people of color on your marketing team then you have people who are not aware of other communities."
Two others who D'Meza said gave her "constant support and feedback related to the organizing that is being done related to race and the theater scene" are Shayna Schlosberg, managing director of The Catastrophic Theatre, and actor Jarred Tettey who grew up in Sugar Land and has performed in the Houston Shakespeare Festival and other Houston stages.
Besides giving D'Meza their advice, Schlosberg helped create and check data collection forms and sending out the information while Tettey helped organize the initial meeting of artists, helped check the graphic and helped send it out.
Graphic by Candice D'Meza
So on Tuesday at noon D'Meza sent out this graphic to five friends who then sent it out to other friends. In addition she is in the process of contacting leading theaters in Houston to ask them to provide her the data she is seeking. She will compile it and then send it back out to the theaters for them to look over and she hopes, think about.
So far, she says, the theaters have been responsive and encouraging to her about her project.
She is seeking data by season and by production. So a theater that puts on its one black-themed show of the year with an all or mostly minority cast, will still be held accountable for other shows with no minority members. Included in the questions she is sending theaters are:
How many non-race-specific roles were there in this particular play or musical? How many equity actors are there in a production? Whether the playwright is a person of color? The number of roles in that production. How many actors were cast? How many of those actors were self-identified people of color? The number of Actors Equity roles in that production and the number of Actors Equity roles that went to people of color.
D'Meza also hopes to set up an anonymous submission form for actors to tell about their experiences at any particular theater in town — the information given will retain the anonymity of the respondents and will remove any identifying details. The information will be compiled by a team including outside consultants.
The Houston Theater Professionals Survey form
being sent out has a deadline of Monday , July 13 and contains both demographic and anecdotal data.