Amas Repertory Theatre: Passing as Black While Becoming White
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Amas Repertory Theatre was founded in 1969 by Rosetta LeNoire, an African American actress who pursued a mission of developing original musicals while practicing interracial casting. The company's most successful show was Bubbling Brown Sugar (1975). Throughout Amas's history LeNoire's complicated perspective on what constituted discrimination sometimes caused her casting choices to be questioned. LeNoire believed in a colorblind theatre and society, however, as the decades passed, her colorblind perspective was challenged by neo-conservative philosophy which states that in a colorblind society no particular group should receive any more privilege than another. This definition of colorblind is used to justify conservative efforts to eliminate affirmative action and undermine race conscious legislation. In the late 1990s, at her retirement, LeNoire, who always believed that color did not matter, turned her theatre over to white leadership, who still operate Amas today. At that point, Amas changed from a company that had, from its founding, been considered to be a black theatre to one that is now white. As the history of Amas unfolds, my study examines the complex politics surrounding the concept of colorblindness. Efforts by Actors' Equity to promote interracial or, as it is often called, nontraditional casting are also investigated as well as the conservative backlash against race conscious policies, particularly during and after the administration of Ronald Reagan. In the present day Amas practices a multicultural mission, however, as my dissertation examines the company's programming decisions as well as its perspective on race, Amas is revealed to be an example of how white operated theatres, even if unintentionally, through the agency of white power and privilege, are affected by the same institutional racism that permeates American society. My dissertation then challenges Amas and other theatres to take responsibility for staying fully aware of the racially charged issues and tensions that exist in America today. When theatre professionals seek out and are committed to engaging in open dialogue on race they are in a stronger position to make knowledgeable decisions regarding the representation of race on stage.