By Natalie Orozco
“I find myself challenged because I applied for the artistic director position thinking I could bring in people of color, but no one is coming out and auditioning,” said James Arthur Martin, artistic director of Barn Theater.
Martin found himself at a crossroads after his late Monday night auditions, when he realized that he could only single out seven faces of color in his casting audition pool for Barn Theater, an organization run by the Theater Department at UC Santa Cruz.
Wan Yin Tang, assistant artistic director and director of Barn Theater’s first play, thinks she may know why.
“Some [reasons] are that casts reflect the underarching proportion of students of color attending UCSC, period,” Tang said. “Fall quarter in particular is also difficult because Rainbow Theater does their auditions as well.”
Rainbow Theater is a popular student theater group organized to provide a supportive theater for students of color.
“I see it as a cycle,” Martin said. “Somewhere down the line, students of color weren’t getting parts. Casting roles like ‘Joe,’ it was automatically assumed that he was a white male because if he were black, it would say so. That’s one of the reasons Rainbow [Theater] began.”
Not only the directors notice this trend. Kevin Holmes, fourth-year film student and Barn TV’s filmmaker, has also recognized the lack of diversity.
“I have caught myself in those positions,” Holmes said, referring to recognizing diverse or homogenous groups in castings. “As a superior white male group organizer, I have found myself thinking, ‘Damn, that’s been two weeks in a row that the cast has been all white males.’”
Holmes is also affiliated with Kinetic Poetics and has struggled to attract students of color to his organization as well.
“But how do we deal with this problem?” Holmes asked. “I’d say that if you ask me what diversity means, it’s seeing that you’re not diverse and working toward changing that.”
That’s exactly what drove James Martin towards his position as artistic director at Barn Theater.
“I have a theme, PEE: Provoke, Enlighten, and Entertain. I want to shake ’em up and get people to talk about issues they normally wouldn’t talk about. I also want to provide forms of theater to underrepresented groups like women, minorities, gays and lesbians … by doing shows written by underrepresented people,” Martin said.
Nicole Jost, fourth-year director for Barn Theater and former Rainbow Theater cast member, feels there should more of a camaraderie between the two theater organizations.
“What would be best for the future is for [Barn Theater] to communicate with Rainbow in terms of students auditioning and getting cast, so both can work together to figure out what is best for the actor, best for Rainbow [Theater] and what is best for the Barn,” Jost said.
Although both Martin and Jost referred to the Barn Theater’s mission statement as providing underrepresented groups a safe and welcoming space, they also acknowledged the lack of student minorities auditioning for their plays, admitting that the mission statement is not enough to solve this problem.
Still, there are high hopes this year for Barn Theater, as well as the theater department in general.
“There has to be more outreach,” Martin said, “That is what Rainbow [Theater] does. I haven’t seen that commitment from theater arts yet.”