The Center for Cultural Innovation found in 2016, “Artists able to make their full income from the arts are less socio-economically and demographically diverse than the total U.S. workforce.” (CCI, 2016) Imaginary Theatricals hopes to take steps to help shift the needle to include more diversity of all kinds. We hope to learn from examples of recent years, like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, and help the world around us re-imagine the past and, moreover, the future. In doing so, we hope to help address the lack of diversity and create opportunities for all artists.
Hamilton was revolutionary because almost the entire cast was multi-cultural, and specifically, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washing were Black and Latino actors. Prior to opening, Hamiltonhad sold $27.6 million which amounted to over 200,000 tickets sold in advance. Mr. Miranda was quoted as saying “Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional. […] It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door.” (Paulson, 2015) Having experienced Hamiltonin person, I can say it is a thrilling night of theater: the diverse audience is as fun to watch as the show itself.
What is more important, however, is the effect Hamilton has had on those that have been lucky enough to see it. The Theater Development Fund took 640 high school students to the Off Broadway run where the head of the program was quoted as saying, “We had students who were in tears because they felt like they were American for the first time.” (Paulson, 2015) I think for those that have never questioned their belonging in America, it’s hard to imagine the impact of representation. However, like Will & Gracewas for me as a young, gay teenager in the conservative south, Hamiltonhas the power to validate. Camryn Garrett, a Black teenager that describes herself as “too awkward to function,” states that seeing the cast of Hamilton“proved to me that my background, appearance, and life can all help me break barriers and records and be extraordinary.” (Garrett, 2016) With this kind of power created from the experience of art, I’m excited to help continue the conversation in my art practice.
As the Center for Cultural Innovation found, the status quo of the arts “not only means a lack of equal opportunity for large segments of the artists’ population, it also means that our nonprofit and commercial ecosystems do not reflect the pluralism of our country’s population overall.” (CCI, 2016) To try to start addressing this, I have founded Imaginary Theatricals. I anticipate many growths and changes in Imaginary Theatricals moving forward, but believe that supporting these artists who are usually overlooked is an excellent beginning.
Sarah Kate Ellis, the President & CEO of GLAAD, recently said, “I dream of a world where women and men and gender non-conforming people can go for the same role. […] You’re all people and you’re going for roles and it’s the best actor wins.” (Esposito, 2018) I think this philosophy is, ultimately, the future for theater. We must step out of our fixed ideas of traditional representations and take the opportunity to reimagine the world and, ultimately, better support our audiences but also our artists.
Creativity Connects: Trends and Conditions Affecting U.S. Artists(Rep.). (2016, September). Retrieved December 21, 2018, from Center for Cultural Innovation for National Endowment for the Arts website: https://www.cciarts.org/_Library/docs/Creativity_Connects_Report-FINAL.pdf
Garrett, C. (2016, June 14). How 'Hamilton' Changed My Life. Retrieved December 21, 2018, from http://www.mtv.com/news/2891998/how-hamilton-changed-my-life/
Paulson, M. (2015, July 12). ‘Hamilton’ Heads to Broadway in a Hip-Hop Retelling. The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/13/theater/hamilton-heads-to-broadway-in-a-hip-hop-retelling.html
Esposito, C. (Host) (2018, November 25) Queerywith Cameron Esposito #62[Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://www.earwolf.com/episode/sarah-kate-ellis/