West End theater bans white people from performances of play about slavery

A theater in the UK is set to host a play for black audiences only, no whites allowed, a move that has drawn "concern" from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Playwright Jeremy O. Harris appeared on BBC in support the initiative, saying that the segregated audience provides a "safe" place apart from white people in a theater setting.

Slave Play, which will be performed at London's Noel Coward Theatre and will star Game of Thrones' Kit Harrington, will run for 3 months beginning in June. During this time, two performances will be open to an "all-black identifying audience" that would be "free from the white gaze," according to The Standard

On Thursday, a spokesperson for Sunak issued the PM's thoughts on what has been dubbed the "Black Out nights" initiative: “The PM is a big supporter of the arts and he believes that the arts should be inclusive and open to everyone, particularly where those arts venues are in receipt of public funding. These reports are concerning and further information is being sought. But clearly restricting audiences on the basis of race would be wrong and divisive.”
 

Playwright Jeremy O Harris, however, said he was "so excited" by the thought of having black-exclusive audiences in an interview with BBC News.

He said that "one of the things that we have to remember is that people have to be radically invited into a space to know that they belong there."

"For me," he said, "as someone who wants and yearns for black and brown people to be in the theater, who comes from a working-class environment, who wants people who do not make six figures a year to feel like theater is a place for them, it is a necessity to radically invite them in with initiatives that say 'you’re invited specifically you, and if.'"



Responding to whether discluding white people made him feel "uncomfortable," O Harris responded: "There are a litany of places in our country, in all of our countries, that are generally inhabited by only white people and no one has questions about that," adding that "this is the night that we are specifically inviting black people to fill up the space, to feel safe with a lot of other black people in a place with they often do not feel safe."

With blacks only in the audience, he said that the theater "100 percent" "feels different."

"Let's not act as though we do not know that culturally black audiences and white audiences respond to things differently," he concluded.

The Standard reports that invitation-only tickets for these "Black Out nights" will be sold and distributed through black community groups.

This is not the first black-exclusive theater event of its kind, however. In fact, O Harris "birthed" the idea and debuted it in 2019 with Slave Play on Broadway in the United States. The Black Out website comes equipped with instructions on "How to black out your event," should another venue want to emulate it.


Image: Title: rishi sunak
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