Three aspects of San Diego’s 2018 theatre season stood out prominently. First, the quality was, by and large, excellent. Secondly, the variety of productions presented covered all facets of theatre, ranging from comedy to drama to musicals and everything in-between. Finally, and equally impressive, 2018 proved to be a strong year for diversity in the arts.
There are as many definitions of diversity as there are interest groups and, for the sake of this discussion and brevity, I shall restrict myself to diversity in terms of race and ethnicity. In this context, it was great to see that a large number of plays and musicals all over San Diego County featured topics that dealt with issues of race, and featured people of different ethnicities.
The Old Globe deserves special recognition for its gripping narratives about people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Both American Mariachi and Native Gardens focused on Latino-American characters, while A Thousand Splendid Suns dealt with Tajik women living in Afghanistan, treating their lives with sensitivity and insight.
San Diego Repertory Theatre produced several shows that featured different perspectives on diversity. Jesca Prudencio’s production of Vietgone was a too-rare theatrical reminder that Asian men and women can be just as charismatic, funny, sexy and cool as anyone else (a message that was also reflected on the big screen with the summer hit “Crazy Hit Asians.”).
Sam Woodhouse’s world premiere of the immersive comedy-drama Beachtown, featured an ensemble that included Hispanic, Black and Asian actors, Beachtown dealt with the creation of a sense of community, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation and political affiliation. Given the politically divisive times we’re living in, this is one positive concept of society that’s not always featured and celebrated onstage.
New Village Arts Theatre received attention for two shows from their bilingual and bicultural outreach initiative, Teatro Pueblo Nuevo. Both Herbert Siguenza’s trippy version of Cloud Tectonics and Associate Artistic Director Nadia Guevara’s production of the comedy-drama, Guadalupe in the Guest Room, received positive notices for the way that Latin characters were portrayed, as well as for the quality of the theatre they produced.
In addition to mentioning the high-quality work above, I also have to give credit to Cygnet Theatre’s Associate Artistic Director Rob Lutfy for directing the modern African American-centric drama, The Wind and the Breeze and the surreal Hir. The latter featured a moving and stunningly funny performance from the Latinx Trans/Non-Binary performer Avi Roque. Lufty’s directing career in Old Town, beginning in 2014, with his production of The MotherF**er with the Hat, has consistently yielded excellent performances from ethnically diverse casts.
Despite the direction of increasing racial diversity in the theatre, there has been considerable recent media attention and controversy surrounding inequality in general, both in the US and abroad.
Fortunately, there are already signs that diversity is going to be a prominent part of the San Diego theatrical landscape in 2019. January alone features Cygnet Theatre’s Marie and Rosetta, about the black singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a Korean-American food drama, Aubergine, at San Diego Repertory Theatre and The Old Globe’s production of Danai Gurira’s comedy-drama, Familiar, which follows the experiences of a Zimbabwean family in America.
I’m hoping that there will continue to be a wide range of stories incorporating all sorts of races and ethnicities onstage and behind the scenes, throughout the year and beyond – it is one strong way to engender true equality and tolerance in the theatre and society.