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Common Reading 2023: We See You, White American Theater by Brittani Samuel

We See You, White American Theater — Brittani Samuel

"We See You, White American Theater" is an article that documents the WSYWAT movement and how they have been advocating for anti-racism in theatre.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think the anonymous, decentralized nature of WSYWAT is overall beneficial or detrimental to their cause?

  1. What do you think would be good ways to measure progress towards anti-racism in theater?

  1. If you are interested in working in theater, how might you consider adapting or incorporating some of WSYWAT’s demands? How might you adapt their demands to fit other industries that you are interested in?

Class Activity

Pick a business or industry that interests you and research if anyone involved in the business/industry is engaging in any anti-racist efforts. How does that business/industry include (or exclude) people of color? Create a list of action steps that the business/industry could take to further racial equity.

Introduction — Monica Prince

The first play I held a principal role in was The Crucible. I played Tituba—obviously—and I didn’t have to audition for the part. Someone connected to the production suggested me because I was a performance poet and an English major and a Black woman. The same term the show went into rehearsal, I was taking an Environmental Racism class, which upended my understanding of capitalism and white supremacy—and by understanding, I mean, awareness.

The last night of dress rehearsal, I asked who was going to do my hair and makeup. “Because, you know, I’m the only Black person in the cast,” I said pointedly at the director, a well-meaning white woman, who stared at me blankly. She didn’t have an answer—so I wore my hair as usual and wore no makeup. I enjoyed being in the show, but that moment always stuck with me. No one had considered the Black girl beyond her token role.

In Brittani Samuel’s “We See You, White American Theater,” that consideration is the primary concern. Despite theater’s role in revolution and resistance, it’s not a surprise that white supremacy reigns there. The collective, We See You, White American Theater (WSYWAT), forces us to ask questions about how to live now that ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse for abuse. How will Broadway change? How can we center and protect the livelihoods of BIPOC theater makers? What does it mean to treat one another better?

In the spring of 2019, the SU Theater Department staged Lynn Nottage’s Crumbs from the Table of Joy, a Black play that includes one white character. Nearly all the students in the cast came from outside the department, because there weren’t enough Black students majoring or minoring in theater. A year later, as COVID ravaged us and Black Lives Matters protests mobilized the globe, WSYWAT issued demands for white American theater to not just perform allyship but to practice it.

This past spring, the SU Theater Department staged Plumes and Blue Bloods, two one-acts by Black playwright and poet Georgia Douglas Johnson. The casts consisted of all Black students from within the department. Professor and director of the show, Dr. Anna Andes, said in the talkback, “This is the first diverse show I’ve produced where I didn’t have to recruit non-majors to perform.” Those students were overjoyed to play Black people on stage, to be allowed to be Black instead of colorless for a show’s lack of character specificity. They performed Blackness as themselves but also as their characters. This shows progress and potential, like Samuel discusses, for a world where theater can do what it does best—challenge, critique, and celebrate. As an industry, American theater has to identify where it has failed its BIPOC creatives, and instead of claiming tradition as an excuse, it must push back against the status quo. For this Black girl in The Crucible and the Black students in Plumes and Blue Bloods—we can dare to be better.

While reading, ask yourself: 

  1. What is it about theater, and performances in general, that pushes us to assume whiteness before anything else? Can you think of a play or musical that challenges this?

  1. Identify an industry you imagine yourself belonging to after graduation. What markers of equity and diversity will you look for to feel included and safe in that realm?

Additional Resources

SU Theatre Department

Check out the offerings of SU's Theatre department.


Check out the website for We See You, White American Theater to learn more about the organization and their mission.

About the Author

Brittani Samuel is a culture reporter, theater administrator, and Rihanna enthusiast based in New York. Currently, she is the co-editor of 3Views on Theater and a contributing critic for Broadway News. In 2022, she became the inaugural recipient of the Edward Medina Prize for Excellence in Cultural Criticism.


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