Diversionary Theatre suspended our upcoming production of Miranda Rose Hall’s Best Lesbian Erotica 1995 on Friday, February 18th. This decision was not made lightly nor hastily, and, throughout the process, we made every effort to center collective care for our community, including our actors and designers, our production sponsors, and our audiences. Our priority has been, first and foremost, to support and center the folks who need to be supported and centered. Only when that work had truly begun, did we begin to turn our attention outward. This process has taken time; for these reasons, we are now releasing this statement.
Diversionary Theatre first presented Hall’s Best Lesbian Erotica 1995 as an audio-cast in August, 2020. We were looking forward to continuing to develop the play in collaboration with the playwright, and presenting the world premiere of the work this winter.
Since the audio-cast, members of the cast expressed reservations about a subplot in the script that we now understand caused harm to our cast members of color, and could cause further harm if presented to an audience. As the rehearsal process continued, we hoped that, in our anticipated collaboration with the playwright, that amendments to the script might be made to reduce harm while maintaining the integrity of the plot. Unfortunately, we were not able to reconcile the script as we had hoped; consequently, we made the decision to suspend the production. To those who were harmed during this process, we offer our sincerest apologies.
In the interest of transparency, we will now relate what transpired in greater detail:
In the subplot mentioned above, the audience is introduced to a Southwest Asian (Middle Eastern) woman, grappling with Islamophobia and racial trauma in the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. As part of our rehearsal process, Diversionary Theatre facilitated a meeting between the playwright and cast where we learned that the playwright did not consult with Southwest Asian community members when writing from the voice of a Southwest Asian character within the play, resulting in problematic storytelling that we acknowledge caused real harm to our community. Diversionary Theatre does not believe that this is acceptable, responsible or appropriate. We also recognize that this type of storytelling is all-too-common in American theatre and reflects the field’s pernicious white racial frame.
At this point, the cast still expressed wanting to continue the production, therefore we hoped that, in collaboration with the playwright, we could rehabilitate the subplot so that we could present the play for our audiences. We engaged a Southwest Asian cultural consultant to work directly with the playwright to make amendments to the script that would make the play significantly less racist and harmful, allowing us a path forward to produce the play while ensuring that no further harm would be inflicted on our artists of color and the Southwest Asian community at large who continue to be dangerously othered and under attack.
After much dialogue between the consultant, the playwright, and the cast, essential common ground revisions could not be agreed to. It became apparent that the writing of this play is not aligned with our Anti-Racism Action Plan and therefore we suspended production.
Diversionary Theatre has begun to recognize the deeply rooted colonial-thinking embedded in our practice. With this production, and in the past, we have wrongly amplified the voices of white story-tellers who have appropriated stories from the Southwest Asian community in problematic and hurtful ways.
Diversionary is not interested in continuing to engage with white artists who are not willing to critically and actively look at their white privilege, fragility, and saviorship as it pertains to their art. We recognize that in order to be a truly safe and anti-racist institution, we must interrupt this pattern of harm, name it when we see it happening, and begin to repair our relationship with the Southwest Asian community in San Diego by listening more than speaking. We are creating space for these important and overdue conversations in our programming this spring.
Here are the actions we are taking to interrogate the root causes of these harms:
The American theatre industry is, unfortunately, only now beginning to reckon with the inherent structural and systemic racism embedded in the profession. New lenses are needed when vetting all work considered for production, especially works that may have been written and read in the past. We are committed to doing this work and letting this moment serve as a reminder and lesson to ourselves and be an example to the field that we must be ever vigilant. We must assume biases are present at all times. We must educate ourselves and use our resources to ask the questions each and every time and be ready to listen and make changes. These changes will make us better producers and serve our artists and audiences responsibly and effectively.