I love musicals. I don’t know how or when it started, but I love them deeply. I try to see a show (Broadway or local productions) at least once a year and even ventured out to my first opera a couple of years ago. To be honest, most of the productions I see have pretty diverse casts and/or purposely feature people of color (POCs) like The Color Purple, Hamilton, The Lion King, and Dreamgirls. So imagine how frustrating it is when each time I go to these shows I notice the audience is mostly White. Not all or only, but mostly… like 80%+ White. And I’m sure this observation is at least somewhat related to how much a theater ticket costs.
Last week I went to see the Broadway production of Aladdin and I saw a little White girl at the show with what I assume was a birthday crown who looked like she was around 7 or 8 years old. She was sitting in the front row with her family singing, dancing, & living her best life and I was genuinely happy for her because… why wouldn’t I be? I was doing the same because the show is amazing! During the intermission I tried to do a quick scan to see if there were other kids present and there were a lot (likely because it’s a Disney production) and I couldn’t help but notice that most of them (~85 to 90%) were White. And of the kids I saw who were POCs I didn’t see any that were Black or Brown. Maybe it was just the night that I went, but also… maybe it wasn’t.
Representation is important and Aladdin has an extremely diverse cast (from the lead actors to the company) and it frustrates me that so many kids of color won’t get to see or experience it outside of it’s cartoon form. And not only do they miss an opportunity to see people that look like them on stage, but they also lose early exposure to an artistic industry as a professional option for them. I’m not just talking about roles on the cast, there’s also stage managers/back office operations, the musicians (orchestra), makeup, costume design, set design, etc. that so many will miss out on simply because they haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed to it. Now let’s layer on top of that the knowledge that many schools in low-income neighborhoods are under-resourced/budget-strapped and arts and music programs are many times non-existent. Again, I’m not just referencing professional productions, many students are missing out on school productions as well which I’d argue are more important because school productions offer hands-on experience at producing a show.
To be fair, I’m mostly referencing Broadway productions and those tickets cost (in my experience) at least $50 per person. That isn’t a lot of money for me now (blessings on blessings), but definitely would have been for my family when I was younger especially if that number was multiplied by any number of my siblings plus the cost of transportation, etc. The theater is costly and time-consuming and those are 2 things low-income families often don’t have excessive amounts of. The fact that there is an economic barrier to such an inspiring and educational expedience truly makes me sad and I had that feeling earlier this week.
Maybe I’m frustrated because I love the theater and I believe it’s an experience everyone should have at least once – you should at least have a chance to reject it LOL And I’m not just referencing musicals (but seriously… who doesn’t love a sparkly, well-choreographed musical number??? WHO??) there are TONS of different genres of theater to experience. And just like we’re working to make sure every student has access to STEM education regardless of economic status, we shouldn’t be neglecting the arts either. The arts are one of the cultural pillars that document and carry forward our cultures, we need to make sure that we’re building the next generation of culture bearers that keep telling and producing amazing stories.