. . . the usual suspects are thinking up new, hypothetical ways to make the theatre more diverse (or else!). So far, we have the following modest proposals: a) sue the theatres who don't diversify, and b) pick the new plays we do by chance.
Both suggestions, needless to say, have been met with some dismay. Isaac Butler's recommendation is, of course, smugly insane - but for once, even he seems to realize this. Meanwhile Scott Walters's idea is amusing enough - and it does solve "the Paula Vogel problem" - but it's hard to imagine any artistic director agreeing to serve merely as the person who pulls the numbers out of a hat. And at any rate, such a system would only result in political jockeying over which plays got into the hat to begin with. (A harsh fact of life is that every system, however well-intended, is ultimately gamed.) Predictably, in the comments section of these blogs, the folks who use the arts as a means of political satisfaction, or who see diversity as a means of career promotion, are intrigued by both recommendations; meanwhile those who hope to gain success via the quality of their efforts are appalled.
It seems to me that both Walters and Butler are far more interesting when they write about class rather than identity politics, and to their credit, both have begun to. But I'm not sure either sees where such a discussion might lead - for if the effects of class and economic injustice were ameliorated in this country, it seems to me that diversity theory, at least in the theatre, would lose much of its legitimacy. And both bloggers, of course, are rather uncomfortably positioned in any discussion of class - Butler has a trust fund, and Walters is a tenured college professor; both are nestled deeply in systems of (white) privilege. You could argue that to them, the issue of winning success by one's talent is somewhat abstract, and they're happy to sacrifice that ideal in favor of a more randomized political distribution of resources (which, you get the feeling, people much like them would nevertheless control).
To me, of course, art is more important than politics, so what Butler calls "the quality problem" (!) matters a lot, as I think it should to any critic worth his or her salt. And let me say up front that if Butler and Walters had any particular playwright they were promoting, of any gender of race or ethnicity, whose work they claimed had been disadvantaged by the system, I would happily see that writer's work, and be an advocate for them if the quality was there. (As for the insulting idea that people in each ethnic group cannot perceive the excellence of works from other ethnic groups - please, tell it to Alvin Ailey.)
But the diversity partisans never seem to be able to point to any actual work that they feel is being ignored. Add to that issue the troubling fact that the "quality problem" we have is often due to playwrights promoted by the academic-diversity crowd, and you have a situation that - well, does not actually inspire critical confidence. I mean, isn't it odd that Scott Walters should be proposing a way around Paula Vogel - who supposedly shares his politics?
To be fair, when "diversity" is the problem, maybe real diversity is the answer. But that doesn't mean chance is the answer. So count me unconvinced, although if Scott Walters can dream up more ways to undermine the system of privilege in this country, I'm all ears.