I've just taken part in Ignition at the Tristan Bates theatre, and one of the other writers was British Nigerian Gbolahan Obisesan who in the post-show discussion said that he was desperate to write a play, but every theatre wants him to write a 'black play'. Alia Bano has said a similar kind of thing, being a writer who also happens to be a Muslim.

There are many schemes to encourage black and ethnic minority writers into the industry, but if the consequence of taking part is that your plays about black and minority issues are commissioned and produced, and your plays about anything else are sidelined, then as a writer, you are still defined by your race and ethnicity. Which to me, feels exclusive and crass.

What do other people think?

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A bit of a sideways comment here, Tim.

In the 80's I wrote for the Black Theatre Cooperative. Some time after that I was at a 'do' at the ICA talking to a particularly sound Arts Council Officer. She asked me what I did and I said (as you do), 'I'm a playwright'. Her eyes widened in amazement. 'Oh wow, that's a coincidence... there's a black playwright called Peter Cox!' (I had a feelng I would have known if there was.) When she went on to talk about this guy writing for the Balck Theatre Cooperative all soon became clear - much to her delight as she was quite challenging to the established heirarchy at the time. It transpired that I had been on the ACE list of Afro Caribbean writers for two years and was being cited as evidence of ACE's success in engaging with theatre makers from ethnic minorities!

I think the flip side of your point is that I never been asked to write a white play!
I'm trying to think of the very best black playwrights, and James Baldwin and August Wilson leap to mind. I lit 'The Amen Corner', and 'Blues for Mister Charlie' by the former, and 'Joe Turner's Come and Gone' and 'Gem of the Ocean', by the sadly-lamented latter. All of these plays warrant URGENT viewing by any audience, but aside from the issue of a playwright feeling comfortable with dialogue they have grown up with, I think they both relished the chance to portray the culture in which they were nurtured. In Wilson's case this was over the stretch of the entire twentieth century. There may come a time when black and ethnic minority playwrights feel that their cultures are well-understood, but I'm guessing that most of them don't think we're there yet.
The pragmatists in arts funding attempt to address a lack of understanding amongst the cultures, and see Caribbean writers, in particular, as a successful force in promoting ideals of mutual understanding. A Black or ethnic minority writer who does not address this problem does not serve this initiative, the fact of which makes me highly suspicious of all such thinking. On the other hand, I have worked with a large amount of highly-talented black actors ONLY ONCE. There are not many opportunities for them, and the work of black playwrights is significant for their employment prospects. Furthermore, the demise of companies like Carib doesn't help.
From the Sherman Cymru publicity, it seems that Roy Williams has attained that hard-fought-for status whereby his plays are produced for their quality, and not because of his ethnic background. He's a good lad. Go and see 'Days of Significance'.


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