New project aims to diversify Detroit’s theatre scene

n a city that’s more than 80 percent black, the opportunities for theatre artists of color (actors, playwrights, directors) aren’t as proportional as one might think.

“It’s sort of the chicken-egg argument,” Emilio Rodriguez says, co-founder of Black and Brown Theatre. “Actors of color tend to leave Detroit. Is it because there are not enough casting opportunities here, or vice versa? The companies are not casting because all the actors of color are leaving for Chicago or New York.”

Rodriguez says that most plays that Detroit-area theatre companies select for their seasons don’t usually create room for actors of color to be cast.

To address the issue, Rodriguez and Shakespeare in Detroit founder Sam White, founded the Black and Brown Theatre: a grassroots project that aims to address the problems theatre artists of color face in Michigan.

“Sam and I have always had a uniformed vision of making sure that diversity is a forefront with Shakespeare in Detroit and with all the work that we do,” Rodriguez says. “We kind of started talking about it two years ago, the need for more opportunities for artists of color.”


They plan to put on plays and showcases in addition to hosting acting and writing workshops to provide opportunities, as well as training to better prepare theatre artists of color for those opportunities. However, Black and Brown Theatre has the lofty goal of not being “sustainable” — meaning, they only want to be a temporary solution so that in the future, casting actors of color won’t be an afterthought.

“By that, we mean hopefully within the next 10-20 years, we won’t be needed because the theatre companies in the area will be casting in a way that’s equitable and reflects the city that we live in,” Rodriguez says. “Through bringing awareness, we hope to not be needed anymore and that other theatre companies will step up and fill the void.”

Black and Brown Theatre hold their first round of auditions last weekend in preparation for their first showcase of six short plays, each about 10 minutes long, written and performed by theatre artists of color from the area. The show will take place at The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on October 30.

For more information about Black and Brown Theatre, visit

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