Arts and Living Editor
Editor in Chief
Northwestern State University’’ s Dear Sschool of Creative and Performing Arts Department of Theater and Dance has cancelled the spring musical, “Working: The Musical,” after theater students of color expressed concerns about equal opportunity in casting of the department’s productions.
On Monday, April 19, a notice was posted on the call board, where cast messages are posted, in the hallway outside of the A.A. Frederick’s Fine Arts Center. The notice expressed concern about racial inequality within the department, as well as a list of demands from students of color in the department of theater and dance and a petition with dozens of signatures listed on it.
The message on the call board, titled “NSU Theater and Dance: You’ve Lost Our Trust” stated, “‘Working: The Musical’ should not have been produced in this department. It lacks the sensitivity and awareness that is needed today where we consider all groups of people and the messages we want to get across when creating art.”
The call board was also strewn with notecards, some signed, with slogans and messages about race inequality in theater, including one that stated, “I’m more than just the role of Donkey in ‘Shrek’ and Seaweed in ‘Hairspray.’”
In a response, Scott Burrell, director of Creative and Performing Arts, sent out an email to all theater and dance majors and minors, announcing that there would be an open forum in Frederick’s Art Center on Tuesday, April 20 to discuss diversity and inclusion in the department of theater and dance.
The forum was moderated by Dr. Michael Snowden, NSU’s Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity. Burrell, Darren Nixon, president of NSU’s chapter of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Dr. Francene Lemoine, professor and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Brett Garfinkel, department head of Theater and Dance, were on the stage and available to respond to student concerns.
Shari Wilson, senior theater and English major, as the first student to stand at a microphone and speak to the faculty on the stage.
“I feel like we did what we did yesterday, which was our protest, in a way, because we just want you to listen to us. I feel like a lot of the faculty and people that are in charge of making decisions, they just aren’t listening,” Wilson said. “And I feel like you guys are making decisions based on what you think is right, rather than what we’re telling you.”
Throughout the two hours, students expressed concerns about their treatment by individual professors, the department and being overlooked for roles due to race.
“We criticize the things that we love, and we love theater. We love theater, and this is our school, we love NSU. So we’re gonna criticize it, especially if they’re not doing right,” Wilson said.
Following the forum, Garfinkel sent out an email announcing that “Working: The Musical” had been cancelled.
“Unfortunately, we will not be releasing the link to the video. The performance was cancelled due to unseen circumstances and releasing the video would only make matters worse,” Garfinkel said.
During the forum, students expressed confusion about the lack of faculty on stage. There will be another forum held in the future with more department of theater and dance faculty sitting on stage to respond to concerns. No date has been set for this forum.
“There was a lot of expressions of anger and pain from students that did not go unheard by faculty and administration. NSU, CAPA, and the Theatre/Dance program has made, and will continue to make, progress on creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for students, faculty and staff,” Burrell said.