On June 15th, 2018 TeAda Artistic Director Leilani Chan participated in a protest that brought National attention on the pervasive problem of structural racism in American theaters and organizations.
Photo during the Theater Communications Group (TCG) National Conference in St. Louis Missouri on June 13th, 2018 a meeting of Theaters of color. (Photo by Jenny Graham)
THOUGHTS FROM ARTISTIC DIRECTOR LEILANI CHAN
When I first posted the video link to our protest we had no idea the response and support we would get. Since then the media has misrepresented us and our efforts. It has taken a bit of time for us to collect our thoughts as a group because we do not have the same marketing machine as this historically white theater does.
Here is our official response as to what happened, why we did it, and the support of Theaters of Color from across the country. I hope that these statements can add more context and counter the sensationalism of this peaceful protest and bring us to a national conversation about how the dehumanizing & degrading portrayal of immigrants and people of color on the stages of major institutions across our country contribute to the discrimination and incarceration of children and innocent people in the U.S.
Intergenerational Theaters of Color session at Theater Communications Group Conference.
Sarah Bellamy at the Aesthetic Perspectives at Theater Communications Group Conference.
THOUGHTS FROM TEADA COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
& LOCAL PROGRAM DIRECTOR SHRUTI PURKAYASTHA
Many of you know, I was born and raised in the Midwest, Illinois to be specific. 12 years later calling Los Angeles/Tongva land my home, I continue to rep these roots of my current lifetime because it shaped so much of who I am now. The ways we gather in homespace in the Midwest, and find communion in storytelling. The slowing down that can happen after a soccer game, the colonized prairie land that grows huge harvests. My father works in the food industry, which is what brought us to the lands of militarized rows of corn and soy. When I go back to the land now, I am more in tune with the whispers of people who are part of and cared for the land.
I grew up with a transient community through the university in our area, and many artists and musicians would pass through our home on a Friday night to share in a diaspora of South Asian music. My earliest memories at home are of the tabla, harmonium and an occasional guitar playing with a circle of Bengalis singing songs, some newer and some so old. This expanded to include people from different regions of South Asia, uniting a lot of languages and stories that explain the relationships to land, how love works, the struggles of being in family or community historically and now.
We created this at home, because truthfully, there were few spaces that we could be in our whole selves outside of that homespace. The entrenched racism vibrated through every part of our public lives. I remember walking around the mall to whispers and eye-rolls. Retail workers who were perfectly kind to the blonde and blue-eyed German-descendant customers would be specifically rude to me and my parents. And I was someone with a mother who was born in the states, wore shorts just above the knee and spoke with a distinctly American accent. I remember being called names after 9/11, and through high school, generally avoiding places outside of the university, a place where there were more brown and black students. I remember an avid "debate" to keep the school mascot, Chief Illini, a white-imagined Chief that was supposedly paying homage to Indian people. The feathers, not the dots, it would be clarified. A minstrel-like dance in full costume would be performed before basketball and football games, always embodied by a white male student, to the mimicky open mouth sounds of the crowd. No wonder so few Native students went to this school The year that the university's basketball team made it to March Madness, led by Black basketball players from Chicago, our high school played the games on TVs in the hallways. Native-led resistance officially created a narrative that the Chief was no longer allowed, but stores continued to carry the mascot on apparel. Red-face was a normal thing, a day-to-day part of this Midwestern cultural landscape. I hold the Native folks living and resisting the spiritual domination of white culture with me daily, and how my family has a duty to decolonial struggles of this land's people.
Being in theater in high school was a blessing. I found a group of queerdos to roll through the lands with, folks involved with independent media, the punk scene, drag experiments, who enjoyed eclectic poetry and Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Funny, I never knew Freddie Mercury was Persian and South Asian until I moved to the West Coast. And while my queerest heart was thankful to be in a high school that had a Gay-Straight Alliance and gave theater kids space, all the ways that theater manifested around me was so white. White supremacist, even. Our music director refused to do any musical that was not from the 1950s-- so Bye, Bye Birdie it was, and then Pajama Game. Anything else was said to be unfriendly content for kids aka We Will Not Experience or Navigate Race or Stories From Communities of Color. These white hetero fantasies featured heroines that would never be imagined for my brown skin or alto voice. I was cast most often as the kooky comic relief, or the mentally insane woman torn apart by the world, a common experience for many black and brown women in the midwest, forget about trans and non-binary folks. I got really good at teasing my hair for those roles, and my daily ritual of wearing kajal black eyeliner to protect my eyes gave me the experience to be make-up lead. But I was constantly sick in my body-- sneezing, fevers, migraines at the age of 15. I can identify the source of my chronic illnesses at that age as toxic white racism now.
My years of experience with South Asian dance and music, theatrical traditions far pre-dating American Musical Theater (by thousands of years), had no place. The history of American Musical Theater is minstrel shows-- black-face, red-face, yellow-face and brown-face that offer little to no room for actual black or brown bodies, and contribute to the social amnesia of historical violence. That white immigrants came and destroyed people, cultures and land. White American theater culture was created to provide emotional catharsis to colonizers and assimilating white immigrants. Can we afford for this tradition to continue?
This is why so many of us Black and POC artists are also healers in our communities. As I write this, LAPD helicopters are hovering in the sky, making so much noise as the 11 month old Black baby I care for is sleeping. They are already becoming used to the sound, as have I. Artists of color are out here, finding the stories that help us survive, sustain, rebalance. Perhaps even heal and thrive. Perhaps even create a new form of culture that does not justify the beauty of whiteness, or create emotional arcs to cater to violence and harm. To remember and not forget so that we may heal. To be told we are truth-speakers, not crazy hideaways. It's not cute anymore. Enough is enough.
TeAda Local Program Director & Community Organizer
Local & National Impact
Driven to support communities and artists of color, immigrants, refugees and QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous People of Color).