Centerstage Theater shines a light on diversity and human rights

As Centerstage Theater continues to evolve towards in-person performances, strengthening diversity and representation in casting and storytelling remain key goals for the theater.

“Centerstage is all about opening the doors to live theater and the arts to people who couldn’t get in before,” said artistic director Trista Duval. “Whether you want to be on stage, in the audience, or behind the scenes, we strive to find those walls and tear them down, find those doors and unlock them. ”

After presenting its postponed Christmas show in July, Centerstage is heading towards a 2021-2022 season entirely in person.

Deanna Martinez, who ran the Christmas show, said she has had more opportunities to perform as a woman of color at Centerstage than anywhere else.

“A lot of times, female directors in particular are seen as good with kids, so they’re often very limited to children’s productions and things like that,” Martinez said. “As a person of color, I’m often asked to work on what we call ‘the February projects’. We are often asked to work specifically on projects that target our own ethnic communities. Centerstage doesn’t see it that way. They see it as all projects are for everyone.

Martinez added that it was important for her to join a theater that would be safe for her own daughter and the other colored children she had worked with.

Duval said the theater has strived to improve diversity in the cast since she became artistic director. Recently, Centerstage released a statement in support of Black Lives Matter with a list of immediate actions that it believes are either completed or underway.

“On a purely statistical level, the more diversity you have, the healthier you are, and in terms of human rights, it is a question of human rights,” said Duval. “Black Lives Matter is about human rights. Access to the arts should be a human right.

In an effort to make the theater more accessible, Centerstage hosted its first sensory performance in 2019 to include people with sensitivities or sensory issues.

“They created relationships in the community within schools and then also in specific cultural groups in the community to ensure that their diversity is not a checkbox, but is a true representation of the community. in which they operate, ”Martinez said.

Martinez added that she felt very supported and sought after as a director at Centerstage. When they couldn’t put on their Christmas show, they rescheduled rather than cancel.

Centerstage has also remained partially open throughout the pandemic and has not had to lay off staff. The performers of the Christmas show were able to film performances of individual songs to be broadcast in a Christmas cabaret. Duval said Centerstage lost money, but was counting on community support and had a successful fundraising event.

Duval and Martinez both said they were excited about the coming season. Duval added that she cried when they were able to bring people back to the theater for the first time and was delighted to be able to provide opportunities for performing artists again.

“The live theater is supposed to be live, so being able to do that last show, and have both streaming and live options, was so exciting,” Martinez said. “It was wonderful to feel the energy of space. Even though it was less crowded than usual due to limited capacity, it’s still worth hearing the live reactions, laughs and gasps.

As they head into the next season, Martinez said she hopes Centerstage takes another step in portraying beyond the colorblind cast: telling diverse stories.

Duval said the theater intended to start including these stories this season, and added that they were in negotiations for a script that does just that.

“In an era when social media is gaining traction, the idea of ​​sitting down for two and a half hours and hearing about someone else’s life in a very vivid and visceral way, but also funny and touching, is incredibly important, ”said Duval. . “Now is not the time to throw them out the window to play it safe with show titles.”

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