If you are a sentient being living in the U.S., you most likely caught wind of some major controversy this past weekend involving the NFL, the national anthem, racial inequality, social justice, #takeaknee, Twitter, the 1st Amendment, and a completely batshit bigoted sociopath - er, I mean the President of the United States.
"Wait, wait, wait - isn't this a theatre company blog?" you might be asking yourself. "Why are you writing about football?" Bear with me.
Since you are on a theatre company's website, reading a theatre company's blog, there's a good chance you've also heard about the Evita whitewashing controversy at the Beverly, MA-based North Shore Music Theatre.
I don't know about you, but I don't often think about the NFL and theatre as having much in common. But in this situation, as I was scrolling through my Newsfeed, reading the news articles, blog posts and think-pieces about these two situations, one thing became clear to me - no one, particularly those in positions of influence and public scrutiny, has the luxury of being silent anymore when it comes to racial inequality and social justice.
There are many people out there who would argue with this statement, insisting that politics should be kept out of sports and art, that these are forms of entertainment, escapism, and should remain that way. But that's a white privilege argument if I ever heard one. The truth is, for millions of people in this country, there is no escape from the realities of racial inequality and social injustice. And what's more, for those people living in that reality, when they try to speak out about it, they are constantly silenced, discredited, overlooked. So if you have a platform like a theatre or, even better, the NFL, you not only have the ability, but the social obligation to use it to give voice to the voiceless.
Which is why North Shore's refusal to recognize their own discriminatory practices and silencing of those who called them out is so infuriating and disappointing. As anyone who is tuned into the theatre world, either at a regional or national level, knows, calls for representation and equality, both onstage and behind the scenes, have been increasing and intensifying, thanks to initiatives like The Ghostlight Project and Project Am I Right?, as well as a rising collective awareness that it's just really fucked up to continually exclude people of color, people with disabilities, and transgender people from all aspects of theatre-making. I'm not saying that any theatre has gotten it absolutely right yet, but refusing to even try or acknowledge that more effort is needed feels like coming down firmly on the wrong side of history.
Being on the wrong side of history, at least when it comes to this particular situation, seems like something the NFL players, coaches and owners want to avoid, although it's not hard to pick your side when the leader of the free world calls you "sons of bitches" (seriously, friends, is this nightmare of a presidency over yet? Please? Pretty please?).
Is it an imperfect protest? Of course it is. Thanks to Trump's Twitter comments, much of the conversation has been derailed from calling attention to America's history of racial discrimination and social injustice, to discussing patriotism, and respect for the American flag and military. The NFL itself is rife with controversies, from its glorification of toxic masculinity, tolerance of players' violence against women, and on-going chronic traumatic encephalopathy scandal. Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who was the first professional football player to take a knee during the anthem last season, isn't even playing this season, with speculation that his outspokenness had something to do with teams refusing to sign him. While the NFL protests have garnered the most attention, they are by no means the only recent instances of athletes using their platform to call attention to these issues. And this was only one week out of 17 - there's a long way to go until the end of the season, so it remains to be seen if this protest can go the distance.
But we have to start somewhere, whether it's on a stage or a football field, whether our audience is 10 people or 10 million. No one is saying you can't lose yourself in the thrill of the game, cheering for your home team, or be swept away on a fantastic adventure full of song and dance. But if you can add a message in there about the state of our country, call attention to the wrongs that need correcting while you do it, why wouldn't you?
-Kristen M. Scatton