From social media to the streets, the Black Lives Matter movement has made waves across the U.S. in wake of the deaths of George Floyd and other people of color due to police violence.
Now, the movement is entering a new arena: the stage.
Cohort Theatre Company, a performance art organization of graduate students in the Master’s of Fine Arts in Theatre program at Ohio State, is hoping to bring a more equitable playing field to the stage for Black, Indigenous and people of color, Matt Greenberg, producing artistic director of Cohort Theatre Company, said.
“There really is a both conscious and subconscious inequality towards non-white folks in theater, and we hope to bring an awareness of that,” Greenberg said.
Through a week-long virtual workshop beginning Monday, the 11-member company will host a wide array of programs to teach participants new artistic and performance skills, as well as provide a creative outlet to discuss the ongoing challenges with racism and the COVID-19 pandemic, Greenberg said. Open to all ages and skill levels, more than 30 programs will be offered over the course of the week, including an audiobook workshop, playwriting, equity in the world of theater and yoga.
“The virtual community allows people from all walks of life from different parts of the world, country, to come together to create art meaningfully together as an ensemble,” Greenberg said.
With the increasing levels of isolation forced upon the world by the COVID-19 pandemic, Greenberg said he hopes the virtual workshop can not only provide participants with new performance skills, but also fulfill the hunger for social connection as our communities are ravaged by both a health and racism pandemic.
“You can be working and learning alongside somebody who doesn’t look like you, sound like you, have your same socioeconomic or educational background, and still make art together that is meaningful, that addresses the liveness of the pandemics that we’re in,” he said.
In light of the protests in communities across the country, Greenberg said the, Cohort Theatre Company hopes to dismantle the long-dominated reign of white, cisgender men in theater.
Minstrelsy, a 19th-century form of entertainment where white performers wore black face to demean and dehumanize Black individuals, originated in theater, and many barriers still exist for people of color in the industry, Greenberg said.
One such barrier that still remains is type casting, where anyone — regardless of race or ethnicity — is hired for a role, which often erases the experiences of people of color when white people are cast in roles designed for people of color, he said.
“Type has so long been associated with colorism and what you believe you can or can’t audition for based on the way you look, and we’re breaking down that stigma to say, you know, ‘What is the difference between color-blind casting versus color-conscious casting?’” Greenberg said.
Among the classes offered in the virtual workshop include “Professional Aspects, Auditions, and Actors’ Equity,” taught by Greenberg, to address issues such as getting an audition slot, joining a union, fair wages and breaking down type casting, he said.
Lillian Brown, chief financial officer of Cohort Theatre Company, said the company is requesting donations from participants, if they are able to give, and all proceeds from the workshop will go to the Black Queer and Intersectional Collective, a grassroots organization in Columbus that seeks to liberate Black LBGTQ+ individuals.
“Especially right now with the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement, it just felt like a good time for us to contribute in this way,” Brown said.
Most members of Cohort Theatre Company are also graduate teaching assistants in the theatre department at Ohio State, and Brown said they are brainstorming ways to make class curriculum more inclusive, such as incorporating more work by playwrights of color.
“We need a change,” she said. “We’re noticing the places that we’ve been falling short.”
Ultimately, Greenberg said he hopes the virtual workshop will bring more people into the Cohort Theatre Company community so that individuals with diverse experiences can come together to create art and use their voices to inspire change.
“I think that you can be a senior in high school or a senior at life and still benefit from what we have to offer because we as a company benefit from what you have to offer, which is your experience, your talents, your drive and your willingness to make an impact in our Columbus community,” Greenberg said.
The virtual workshop will be held July 27 to July 31, and specific program times are listed on Cohort Theatre Company’s Facebook page. Participants can register for workshop sessions on the organization’s EventCreate page. Donations can be made through the organization’s Venmo account @CohortTheatre-Company.