In a very rapid digital age, we find ourselves inundated with social media high-light reels, where the majority of content is glossy, crisp, and #goals. In an effort to take a look behind the curtain, CultureWorks is sitting down with members of the cultural community to learn more about story behind the glory and how they are reshaping the cultural scene. We are on an exploratory mission to amplify narratives that often are relegated to the margins. First up is LaNeshe Miller-White, Founder of Theatre in the X, which provides the community at large the opportunity to see professional quality theater in their neighborhood for no cost.
What inspired you to create Theatre in the X?
I have always had a love for theater for social change and making the arts accessible. When my co-founder Carlo Campbell came to me and said he wanted to do theater in his neighborhood free for the people, it was a no brainer for me.
As a theatre company based in West Philadelphia serving mostly African Americans, what has been the biggest triumph and obstacle?
The biggest triumph is the community reaction. Having people coming up to us after the show, or around the city, thanking us for our work. Seeing the faces and reactions of audience members at shows. One of my favorite things is seeing the children who run up or roll up on their bikes and stop in awe. The biggest triumph is that our audience, our community, continue to love us, thank us, and look forward to what we’re going to do next. That means we’re doing things right.
The biggest obstacle is money. Our admin team works extremely hard all year round on Theatre in the X in addition to having jobs (that actually pay them), families, and being professional actors in the city. Our performers and creative teams work extremely hard and we are not able to pay them anywhere near their worth.
Our obstacle goes back to our triumphs, because if we weren’t doing good work and people didn’t believe in what we do, they wouldn’t put all the time, energy, and their beautiful talent into the company.
What is Theatre in the X doing to reshape the narrative on the perception of Black culture, (specifically the perception of African-Americans not accessing theatre)?
I believe we’ve proven that authentic outreach can and will yield audiences. The idea that Black audiences don’t like theater is false. What we have done is proven that Black audiences, when in a comfortable space, love theater. We have pulled down the barriers to accessing theater and our audiences love it. Not only do they love something like The Wiz, which is already a staple in Black culture, they also loved an almost three hour long all Black production of Shakespeare’s Othello.
We’re showing that Black audiences love theater, and Black performers and artists produce great theater.
How do you decide on your productions? Are they taken directly from current events in Black Culture?
Our curatorial style is very much responsive to the community’s needs and current conversations. In 2013 when all the issues with the Philadelphia School system were really bubbling up we produced No Child… a piece about the state of the education system in inner city schools from the perspective of a teaching artist. In 2016 among continued instances of gun violence across the country we produced Love, Queens Who Suffer From Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and homage to Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls… written by all Philadelphia poets dealing with the effects of gun violence in the community. We chose The Wiz for our 2018 production because we overwhelmingly felt that the community needed joy. We felt like theater showcasing Black joy was missing, so we brought it.
Despite the fact that black people are culture makers with tremendous economic impact there is still a lack of value placed on art geared specifically towards the African-American experience. Why do you think that is, and how can we combat this?
I think like many other facets of society art geared specifically towards the Black experience is considered niche, and not universal, which is false. Because of that support is limited.
I don’t know how we fix this!
What do you see for the future of Theatre in the X?
I see the future of Theatre in the X as performing work in more public spaces, enhancing our production quality for our Malcolm X Park shows even more, developing an education program, and being able to adequately compensate our team and artists for their work.
Where can people follow Theatre in the X?
#theatreinthex on Instagram and Twitter
Photo Credit: Brittnie Knight