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21 May, 2023 16:03

White theatergoers urged to stay away from all-black production

The move sets a “poor and dangerous precedent,” according to a high-ranking UK police official
White theatergoers urged to stay away from all-black production

The Theater Royal Stratford East in London has said that white visitors should not attend an upcoming production of 'Tambo & Bones' in order to create a “safe, private” space for an “all-black-identifying audience” to attend a play which examines race relations issues in the United States.

The so-called ‘Black Out’ performance of the play, which is scheduled to take place in July, is intended to foster a “purposeful creation of an environment in which an all-black-identifying audience can experience and discuss an event free from the white gaze,” according to promotional material associated with the production.

However, Festus Akinbusoye, the UK’s first-ever black police and crime commissioner has “strongly urged” the theater to cancel its ‘Black Out’ event.

“Society is richer and stronger when an understanding of each other’s cultures and stories are shared and heard,” Akinbusoye said in comments published by The Telegraph on Saturday. “I believe the ‘Black Out’ concept runs contrary to this education and enrichment ethos.” 

Akinbusoye’s comments were endorsed “100%” by Samuel Kasumu, the former race adviser for the UK government who has launched his candidacy for next year’s mayoral elections in London.

'Tambo & Bones', which opened in the United States in 2022 to lukewarm reviews, examines 300 years of African-American history through the lens of its two protagonists: Tambo, a businessman, and Bones, who is characterized as a hustler. Throughout the course of the production, the pair start as minstrels before becoming rappers and finally members of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ social justice movement.

Matthew Xia, the director of the play, said of the play in a press release this month that it was “imperative” that ‘Black Out’ performances be held in order for black theatergoers to “experience productions that explore complex, nuanced race-related issues’’ in a “private and safe space.” 

The Theater Royal Stratford East has also indicated that it will resist altering its upcoming schedule due to the backlash. “We have chosen to embrace this initiative for one performance, during the play’s month-long run, as a space for black audiences to experience the play as a community,” a spokesperson for the theater said, according to The Telegraph on Saturday.