Speaking Truth to Power: Talking Diversity

From Sean Devine: A couple of years ago Valerie Sing Turner sent me an email with a question of concern over my new play DAISY, which was still in its early development. I think she may have either read a draft or heard about the characters, or something to that effect. At the time, the characters were all white, and all male. And it was going to require a large cast of 7 male actors to perform it.

Valerie wrote to me asking if I’d consider making changes to my characters, in order to add some diversity. She was asking me to change the cultural / gender make-up of characters who were based on real people! DAISY is a true story set in the real world of politics and adversiting of 1964. None of the real people in my true story were non-white or non-male.

At first, I did not respond too well to Valerie Sing Turner’s request, and said as much to her. My first obligation was to be truthful to the history I was dramatizing, and the real people whose lives I was borrowing.

And then I chose to honour Valerie’s request.

I now have a play where the lead role is a female character named Louise Brown, who took the place of a real person named Stan Lee. And another pivotal character – one might even call him the antagonist – is a fictional African-American character based on a real African-American political pioneer; though the original historical figure was certainly not.

Each of these new characters has brought with him and her nuances and complexities that I would never have found otherwise. The issue of race in American during the bloody riots of the 1960s is now a focal point of the play. A strong female character – the protagonist – is driving my story on questions of ethical struggles and opportunism that have nothing to do with her gender, just as if she were a man. But of course the male characters attack her for it, which makes her struggle all the richer.

And this play – perhaps thanks to its rich nuances – is getting a big-budget world premiere at a major American theatre company at a time in history when the subject matter is being reflected right on the streets that the theatre’s doors open onto.

So I wish to extend a heartfelt thank-you to Valerie Sing Turner, and all of the other theatre pioneers who are bravely speaking truth to power when it comes to demanding that our noble art form be truly honourable, as we seek to honour the rich diversity of lives and truths that we walk among.

 

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