The New York Times had an interesting story Saturday morning about the Theater for a New Audience Shakespearian theater moving from Manhattan to Fort Greene in Brooklyn, where the city is funding a new $47.5 million theater for the company. The move drew criticism from black residents and artists, who say the move catering to, as the Times said, works of a "Dead White Male" playwright. Said Laurie A. Cumbo of the Musem of Contemporary African Diasporan Art, "We have a role and respnsibility to act as a community so that these institutions that we're building first and foremost benefits the people who live" here. Then we can think about the hipsters, the yuppies, the Manhattanites and that sort of thing."
I can see the need for the city to fund works of emerging black playwrights, along with works from other groups. Artistic merit, not ethnicity, should be the standard. However, while Shakespeare the man might be white and dead, his plays have remained alive for more than 400 years, and speak to all of us. The belief that Shakespeare doesn't relate to black audiences shortchanges them. The article says the Theater for a New Audience does three plays a year; surely other companies and artistic genres can use the theater some of the time. It would be a good gesture for the theater to open itself to contemporary plays, including those of black writers and performers.
The building of the theater recalled to me that Shakespeare's own company built the Globe Theater in London. What does it say about our time that in the Elizabethan era, a theatrical troupe could afford its own stage, not depending on the queen to fund it. Of course, today the theater must compete with much more entertainment offerings. The wealth of "The King's Men" can only be duplicated in mega performances on Broadway, which also continues to struggle along with symphonies, museums, publishers,etc.