High school theatre is not just about putting on performances; it’s a platform to empower life skills including fostering creativity, building confidence, and encouraging inclusivity among students. More than ever, theatre educators have a vital role to play in promoting diversity in theatre by understanding, showing empathy, and respecting all cultures and backgrounds. Luckily, there are unlimited resources that teachers can use to celebrate diversity in their classroom and create a rich, inclusive environment for all students.
1. Diverse Play Selection
One of the most impactful ways to celebrate diversity in high school theatre is by selecting a diverse range of plays and scripts. Choose works that showcase characters from various ethnicities, backgrounds, and perspectives. This not only provides representation on stage but also allows students to step into the shoes of characters with different life experiences. It’s an opportunity for students to learn about the world beyond their own, fostering cultural awareness and empathy.
Unsure where to start? We recommend looking at Broadway Book Club. Every quarter you will receive a package of 7 plays handpicked into special collections such as Black Voices, Banned Books, Women’s Voices, and more!
2. Inclusive Casting
Inclusivity should extend to casting decisions as well. Encourage blind casting, where actors are cast based on their talent and suitability for a role, rather than their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or abilities. This approach allows students to break away from traditional casting norms and challenge preconceived notions about who can play certain roles. It also sends a powerful message about equality and opportunity.
3. Cultural Workshops and Guest Speakers
Unsure how to spotlight other cultures? Invite cultural experts, artists, and performers to conduct workshops and share their experiences with the students. These workshops can focus on various aspects such as dance, music, accents, and traditions relevant to the play being performed. Not only will students gain a deeper understanding of cultural nuances and perspectives, but you will too!
4. Student Input and Collaboration
Encourage students to take an active role in shaping the theatre program’s diversity initiatives. Create opportunities for open discussions where students can suggest plays, themes, or topics that resonate with them. This is a chance for your student’s voice to be heard. Collaborative approaches such as this empower students to contribute their ideas and help in creating a theatre environment that truly reflects the student body’s diversity.
5. Embrace Multilingualism
If your school has students who speak different languages, consider incorporating multilingual elements into your productions. This can include incorporating lines or scenes in other languages, with appropriate translation or context provided. This will also be appreciated outside the classroom when their family members attend performances!
6. Behind-the-Scenes Diversity
Diversity doesn’t end on the stage; it should be reflected behind the scenes as well. Encourage students to get involved in various production roles, such as lighting, sound, set design, and costume creation. This provides a holistic experience and showcases the diversity of talents within the theatre community. This is also an opportunity for teachers to reach out to industry professionals who are experienced in lighting different skin tones and costuming different body types.
7. Discuss and Address Stereotypes
Use theatre as a tool to address stereotypes and challenge biases. Select plays that explore issues related to prejudice, discrimination, and cultural identity. After performances, engage in open conversations about the themes presented and encourage students to reflect on their own perspectives.
For High School Teachers we recommend these titles:
- Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus
- Anon(ymous) by Naomi Iizuka
- School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play by Jocelyn Bioh
- On the Wings of a Mariposa from the novel by Barbara Joosse, by Alvaro Saar Rios, music and lyrics by Dinorah Márquez Abadiano
- From the Mouths of Monsters by Idris Goodwin
For College Professors we recommend these titles:
- Sweat by Lynn Nottage
- The Mountaintop by Katori Hall
- Stop Kiss by Diana Son
- Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes
- sandblasted by Charly Evon Simpson
Theatre is a powerful platform for celebrating diversity and promoting inclusivity. By selecting diverse plays, embracing inclusive casting, inviting cultural experts, involving students in decision-making, and addressing stereotypes, theatre educators and other theatre decision-makers can create an environment where everyone’s voice is heard and valued.