MMITM Ep 30 - How to Have the Hard Discussions: Talking About Race in a Polarized Society with Dr. David Campt and Broadway Producer Ron Simons

 

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Announcer: From  CurtCo  Media. ( Singing).

00:00:05
Bill Curtis: Welcome  to  a  special  edition  of  Politics:  Meet  Me  in  the  Middle.  I'm  Bill  Curtis.  Joining  me  for  today's discussion,  Dr.  David  Campt  is  referred  to  as  The  Race  Doctor.  He  is  a  highly  regarded  national  expert  in  the  areas  of  inclusion,  equity,  cultural  competence,  and  intergroup  dialogue.  David  earned  his  bachelor's  from  Princeton,  his  public  policy  master's  from  Berkeley,  and  his  doctorate  from  U. S.  Berkeley's  Urban  Planning  Department.  David's  the  author  of  a  number  of  books,  including  the  Little  Book  of  Dialogue  for  Difficult  Subjects.

 

Well,  that's  a  good  descriptor  for  today's  discussion.  David,  we're  honored  that  you  could  join  us  today.

 

00:00:45
David Campt: It's  great  to  be  here.  Thank  you so much.

 

00:00:47
Bill Curtis: Ron  Simons,  a  four- time  Tony  award- winning  producer.  Making  him  the  highest  African- American  Tony  award- winning  producer  of  all  time  so  far.  Also,  Ron  is  the  leading  Broadway  producer  working  today  to  bring  diversity  to  the  Broadway  stage.

 

 As  CEO  of  SimonSays  Entertainment,  Ron  leads  the  strategic  planning  and  development  of  theater,  television,  and  film  projects.  He's  also  an  accomplished  actor  with  many  dozens  of  credits  on  the  big  screen,  the  small  screen,  and  stage.  He  brings  a  well  thought  out  perspective  on  Black  Lives  Matter.
 Ron,  thanks  so  much  for  joining  us  today.

 

00:01:21
Ron Simons: Thanks  for  having  me. Great  to  be  here.

 

00:01:24
Bill Curtis: Where  some  of  this  is  new  for  some  of  us,  you  guys  have  been  fighting  this  battle  for  many  decades.  I  wonder  if  you'd  be  willing  to  give  us  each  three  or  four  words  that  would  come  to  mind  that  best  describe  your  thoughts  and  emotions  during  the  last  few  weeks?

 

00:01:40
David Campt: So  I  would  say  disgusted,  horrified,  and  hopeful.  Disgusted  by  basically  a  public  execution  by  somebody  who  knew  who he  was  being  filmed  and  figured  it'd  be  fine.  Horrified  by  the  largely  white  violent  protestors  making  the  protest,  giving  us  a  whole  other  view  of  what  those  protests  are.  Although,  we  could  talk  about  how  they  did  us  a  favor  by  having  those  anarchists  and the people doing that.  Then  hopeful,  looking  at  like  the  diversity  of  people  out  there  protesting.  That's  a  new  thing.
 So  I'll  say  disgusted,  horrified,  and  hopeful.

 

00:02:17
Ron Simons: I  would  agree  that  I  was  hopeful  as  well.  I  had  not  seen  in  my  lifetime  such  large  numbers  of  white  people  who  cared  enough  about  racism  to  actually  go  out  and  protest  against  it.  My  experience  with  racism  is  that  horrific  things  happen  and  then  a  lot  of  people  talk  about  how  bad  it  is,  and  then  a  few  days,  weeks,  months  later,  we're  onto  the  next  subject,  and  racism  is  no  longer  the  topic  of  the  day.
 The  other  two  things  were  unsurprised,  because  when  I  saw  George  Floyd  killed  on  camera,  it's  not  the  first  time  we've  seen  a  black  man  killed  on  camera.  We've  seen  them  choked  before.  We've  seen  them  shot  in  the  back  as  they  were  running  away.  This  is  my  experience.  So  in  some  ways,  I  was  horrified  at  the  fact  that  a  white  man  felt  so  comfortable  in  his  privilege  and  power  that  he  said  that  he  could  kill  a  man  on  camera  and  either  not  had  any  ramifications  or  could  not  care  about  the  ramifications  because  the  most  important  thing  at  the  moment  was  killing  this  black  man.

 

00:03:22
Bill Curtis: Ron,  when  you  just  answered  the  question,  you  said  I  was  hopeful.  Does  that  mean  that  today  you're  not  as  hopeful?

 

00:03:31
Ron Simons: No,  no, no.  It  may  mean  that  next  month  I'm  not  as  hopeful.  Because  when  something  is  disrupted  and  people  are  talking  en  masse  about  some  disparity  in  justice,  the  Me  Too  movement,  for  example,  for  a  while  there  the  Me  Too  movement  was  center  stage.  People  were  being  called  on  their  shit.  There  were  people  out  there  protesting.  There  was  marching.  It  was  like,  wow,  really  systemic  change  is  going  to  happen  it  seems.  But  in  point  of  fact,  it  didn't.
 The  only  reason  all  of  this  stuff  is  happening  is  because COVID- 19  happened  to  be.  Because  it  gave  people  time  to  say,  you  know what,  I'm  now,  A,  frustrated,  B,  home,  C,  don't  have  as  many  things  to  do,  and,  D,  I'm  emotionally  open  to  things  where  I  had  to  have  my  head  down  in  other  times.  There  was  a  perfect  storm  that  happened.
 Why  I'm  hopeful  now  is  that  I'm  hopeful  that  the  window  won't  pass.

 

00:04:23
David Campt: We  hope  that  people  look  at  this  moment  as  an  opportunity  to  really  move  forward.  But  if  we  look  at  the  historical  arc  of  history,  we  have  seen  that  before.  So I think that  that's  a  critical  thing.
 I  do  think  we're  in  a  new  moment.  So  while  certainly  this  thing  that  happened  with  George  Floyd  was  a  galvanizing  influence,  but  I  also  wonder  whether  or  not  there's  been  something  brewing  for  a  while.
 The  George  Floyd  murder  was  the  most  egregious  of  all  of  these  things  that  we  have  seen,  right,  because of the reasons you said, Ronald. He's looking at the camera.  As  (inaudible)   said,  this  is  the  first  time  you  get  to  see  the  face  of  the  murderer  and  the  murder  all  at  the  same  time.  All the  other  ones  is  grainy,  it's  from  a  distance.  We're  looking  at both of their faces at  the  same  time  and  my  man  didn't  care  at  all.  He  knew  he  was  being  filmed,  it don't  matter,  right?
 He  figured  he  was going to  get  away  with  it.  That  brought  this  whole  thing  to  a  level  of  egregiousness  and  it  aggravated  the  whole  world.

 

00:05:15
Ron Simons: I  have  heard  about  egregious,  racist,  deadly  force  used  against  black  people  my  entire  life.

 

00:05:23
Bill Curtis: So  it's  not  at  all  new  for  you.  It's  just  that  I'm  waking  up  to  it.

 

00:05:26
Ron Simons: It's  not  new  to  me.  Even  when  I  got  to  college  and  people  would  say  things  to  me  like,  wow,  you  must  be  really  thankful  for  Affirmative  Action  because  you  got  in  here.  Right?  Or  they  would  say,  oh,  I  didn't  get  into  such  and  such  a  school  because  they  had  these  racial  quotas.
 Or  the  one  that  I  loved  and  probably  heard  the  most  is,  you  know,  Ron?  You  are  so  articulate.  I'm  like,  I'm  in  a  freaking  Ivy  League  school.  Of  course,  I'm  articulate.  Would  you  say  that  to  some  white  friend  of  yours  that  you  just  met?  Oh,  hi,  Ted.  I  really  loved  your  presentation.  You are  so  articulate.

 

00:06:01
David Campt: A  whole  other  level  of  this  is you've  got  people  saying  Affirmative  Action  played  no  role  in  their  course, and  of  course  it  did.  So  my  SAT  scores  were  such  that  had  I  been  a  white  person,  I  had  a  50%  chance  to  get  into  Princeton.  Not  bad.  As  a  black  person  at  the  time,  I  had  a  90%  chance.  Why?  Because  we  have  whole  structural  inequities  in  the  educational  system  that  have  gone  on  for  years  and  years  and  years,  as  well  as  biased  tests,  that  produced  that  result.

 

 So  part  of  the  difficulty  dilemma  I  faced  when  faced  with that question of  affirmative  action  is  on  the  one  hand  I'm  just  as  deserving  as  you,  homie,  because if I  was  white  I'd  have  a 50%  chance  getting  in  just  like  you  probably  did.  On  the  other hand, affirmative action did  play  a  role.

 

 So  how  honest  do  we  want  to  get  given  that  a  whole  bunch  of people  are  asking  these  kinds  of  questions  not  necessarily  from  a  good  heart?  They're  trying  to  trip  you up. They're trying  to  make  a  point  to  themselves  about  how  you  don't  really  deserve  to  be  here.  They're  trying to prove that  to  themselves  and  prove  that  to  you.  So  we  have  to  make  a decision  about  how  honest  of  a  conversation  do  we  really  want  to  have.
 My  work  has  been  about  how  do  you  create  the  conditions  so  people  can  have  an  actual,  honest  conversation.  I  tell  people at  my  work  that  trying  to get white people  to  talk  is  all  about  trying  to  make  Thanksgiving  great  again.  Because  a  whole  bunch  of  y'all,  every  holiday  y'all  falling  apart.  You  don't  want  to  avoid  all  these  conversations,  you want to be able to  have  these  conversations,  but  people  need  tools  to  do  that.  That's  what  I'm  trying  to  provide.

 

00:07:25
Bill Curtis: Tell  us  a  little  about  how  do  we  be  a  good  ally?  How  do  we  check  ourselves  along  the  path?  Because  I  want  to  learn.  I want to  be  better.

 

00:07:32
Ron Simons: The  first  step,  this  is  the way  people,  when  you  walk  into  the  room,  notice  that  there  are  no  people  of  color  in  that  room.  Recognize  that  is  a  problem  and  something  must  be  done.
 In  Broadway,  I've  seen  this.  There's  a  league  that  I  belong  to, and there were 250 people in the room,  and  there  were  two black  people  in  the  room.  I  was  astounded.  At  the  coffee  break,  I  said,  did  you  just  notice  anything  unusual  about  the  people  in  that  room?  No,  not  really.  Someone  else,  same  thing.  Then  afterwards,  one  came to me and  said, " Oh  my  God,  I  didn't  realize  that  there  are  no  people  of  color."  I  said,  yes.
 So  we,  as  black  people,  because  we  live  in  some  level  of  trauma  all  the  time,  are  acutely  aware  when  we  walk  into  a  room  and  we're  the  only  black  person  in  that  room.

 

00:08:19
David Campt: To  build  on  what  Ron  said,  I  would  invite  people  not  just  to  notice  what  happened,  but  to  talk  about  it.  Right?  So  the  part  of  what  you  do  in  the  setting  is  to  say,  you  know,  I  noticed  that,  oh,  this  country  is  about  a  third  of  color,  this  room  isn't.  Did  you  notice  that?  How  do  we  feel  about  that?  But  even  that  is  a  big  step  forward.
 So  I  don't  want  to  take  these  other  big  tasks  off  the  table,  but  one  thing  every  white  person  can  do  is  to  start  initiating  conversations  about  racial  issues  with  other  white  people,  not  pushed  by  black  people  to  do  that.

 

00:08:54
Ron Simons: Hear  hear.

 

00:08:55
David Campt: People  can  do  something  immediate  all  the  time,  which  is  how  do  I  affectively  non- judgmentally  bring  up  racial  issues  with  other  white  people  to  make it  a  subject  of  conversation?

 

00:09:08
Bill Curtis: How  would  someone  like  me  bring  up  racial  issues  with  someone  that  I  don't  think  is  necessarily  on  side  yet,  someone  who  still  believes  racial  issues  against  white  people  are  just  as  powerful  as  those  against  black  people?

 

00:09:22
David Campt: Here's  what  every  white  person  needs  to  have.  They  need  to  have  a  racial  progress  story.  They  need  to  have  a  story  about  the  progress  that  they  have  seen  over  the  course  of  their  lives.  Now,  the  easiest  one  that  we  can  all  tap  into  is  like  what  we  just  saw  with  all  these  white  people  protesting.  It's  useful  to  have  some  little  stories,  something  you  can  convey  in  terms  of  a  story  that  is  a  sign  that  racial  progress  has  happened.

 

 It's  how  the  kids  were  in  the  cafeteria  when  you  were  growing  up,  your  kids  are  the  same  high  school  now,  and  it's  different.

 

00:09:53
Bill Curtis: Why  is  that  a  wrench  in  my  toolkit?

 

00:09:55
David Campt: Because  if  you're  trying  to  invite  somebody  to a  new  understanding,  you've  got  to  agree  with  them  first.  There's  two  principles  behind  effective  persuasion.  One  of  them  is  that  stories  work  better  than  facts.  The  second  one  is  ABC,  agreed  before  challenging.

 

 In  your  bag,  you  have  some  other  story  that  embodies  that  you  believe  that  we've  made  progress.  Then  your  other  thing  is  your  personal  unconscious  bias  story,  and  you  frame  it  as  racially  biased.  Now,  why do you  do  that?  Because  you  know  the  best  evidence  that  racism  still  exists  is  because  you  can  tell  about  racism  in  your  own  head.  It  is  useful  to  have  a  story  of  racial  progress  which  will  make  somebody  relax  and  feel  agreed  with  before  you  tell  them  some  story  that  is  about  like  racism  still  exists  and  I  know  because  I  see  the  racism in  my  own  head.

 

 Am  I  answering  your  question?

 

00:10:43
Bill Curtis: I'm with you, and I'm  taking  notes.  So  I  feel  like  I'm  in  school.
 One  other  thing.  Go  back  to  a  June  16th  edition  of  the  LA  Times,  I  believe.  Or  maybe  the  15th.  There's  a  two  page  spread  that  was  taken  out  by  Byron  Allen,  and  listen  to  what  he  has  to  say.  It  is  really  impressive.  I  want  to  send  it  to  you  guys  because  I  think  that  he  is  incredibly  articulate.

 

00:11:10
Ron Simons: He's  brilliant.  If  you've  been  sleeping  on  Byron  Allen,  wake  up  because  that  man  has  plans  for  the  planet.

 

00:11:18
David Campt: So,  Bill,  what  I  want  to tell you  is  that  I  know  that  you  meant  that  in  the best spirit  about  Byron  Allen,  who's  awesome.  One  of  the  things  that  white  folks  should  think  about  is  that  when  you  call  a  black  person  articulate,  it's  a  little  bit  of  a  triggering  thing.  Because  as  Ron  said  earlier,  part  of  what  happens  is  that  we've  been  called  articulate  as  if  that  was  a  surprise  to  people.
 So  the  reason  I'm  saying this  to  you  is  because  it  might  be  useful  for  people  to  know  that  while  Byron  Allen  is  of  course  incredibly  articulate,  I'm  just  saying  you  might  want  to  think  about  how  you  say  that  because  of  the  history  of  people  not of  your  heart  saying  it,  it's  a  bit  triggering.

 

00:11:59
Bill Curtis: What's  a  better  word  for  me  to  use.

 

00:12:02
David Campt: Well,  we're  in  dicey  territory.  I  would  say  that,  like,  for  example,  what  Ron  did,  he  called  it  brilliant.

 

00:12:08
Ron Simons: There  is  brilliant.  There  is  insightful.  Right?  There  is  groundbreaking.  There  are  a  lot  of  things  that  that  man  was  doing  that  if  you would  just  say  to  yourself,  if  I  was  talking  about  any  white  politician  and  they  said  what  he  said,  how  would  you  describe  that  white  politician?

 

00:12:28
David Campt: When  you're  all  in  the  realm  of  like  how  well  you  said  it  as  opposed  to  what  the  construction  of  the  idea  is,  you're  in  a  more  dicey  territory,  because  people  expects  us  to  sound  like  ex- slaves  and  we [ inaudible 00:12:40].  You  don't  want  to  distract  people  with  that.  So  just  be  aware  of  that.

 

00:12:44
Bill Curtis: Well,  I  personally  cannot  imagine  the  corporation  listening  to  this  and  not  contacting  you  and  figuring  out  a  way  to  solve  some  of  their  issues.  But  we'll  talk  about  that.  In  the  meantime,  we're  going  to  take  a  quick  break  and  we'll  be  right  back.
( singing)

 

00:13:05
Speaker 5: On  Medicine,  We're  Still  Practicing,  join  Dr.  Steven  Taback  and  Bill  Curtis  for  real  conversations  with  the  medical  professionals  who  have  their  finger  on  the  pulse  of  healthcare  in  the  modern  world.  Available  on  all  your  favorite  podcasting  platforms.  Produced  by  CurtCo  Media.
( singing)

 

00:13:26
Bill Curtis: We're  back  with  Ron  Simons  and  Dr.  David  Campt.  Let's  dive  into  Broadway,  Ron.  How  is  Broadway  as  far  as  diversity  goes?

 

00:13:35
Ron Simons: Well,  I  think  onstage,  Broadway  is  fairly  diverse.  I  would  not  say  that  it  is  at  the  same  equity  of  the  demographics  as  represented  by  the  population  of  the  United  States,  but  it  is  certainly  more  diverse  than  every  other  part  of  Broadway.

 

 I  marvel  that  for  many  years  I  would  sit  in  a  room  for  a  Broadway  show  on  which  I  was  a  producer  and  I  would  be  the  only  person  of  color  in  that  room  and there  would  be  35  people.  There  were  no  black  people  who  were  co- producers  like  me,  there  were  none  in  the  advertising,  none  in  the  marketing,  none  in  the  press.  It  was  very,  very  white.

 

 So  I  remember  having  a  conversation  with  one  of  my  lead  producers  saying,  you  know,  I  noticed  that  there  aren't  many  people  of  color  who  are  co- producers  here.  He  said,  yeah,  and  I'm  really  sorry.  I  wished  we  could  have  more.  Then  I  challenged  him.  So  you  sound  like  you're  doing  something  that's  not  working.  What  are  you  doing?  That  was  not  in  fact  the  question  that  he  wanted  to  hear,  because  he  clearly  got  both  aggravated  and  confused  about  what  to  say  and  what  to  do.  But  he  said,  you  know,  I'm  really  frustrated  by  it.  You  know,  we  can't  get  them  there.  It  implied  to  me  that  you  must  be  doing  something [inaudible 00:14:50].
 So  all  that  is  to  say,  there's  a  lot  of  work  to  do  on  Broadway.  There's  a  lot  of  work  to  do  in  regional  theaters  around  the  country.  It  is  like  every  other  part  of  our  culture,  it's  systemically  racist.

 

00:15:01
Bill Curtis: Let's  talk  for  a  minute  about  the  hashtag,  we  See  You,  the  letter  that's  entitled,  Dear  White  American  Theater.  There's  a  petition  going  around.  You're  familiar  with  it,  I  assume.

 

00:15:12
Ron Simons: Yeah,  I've  read  it.

 

00:15:13
Bill Curtis: Does  that  well  state  the  challenges  and  issues  that  are  occurring  in  Broadway?

 

00:15:18
Ron Simons: It  talks  about  many  of  them,  but  it  is  not  an  exhaustive  list,  no.  What  I  appreciated  about  that  letter  being  signed  by  so  many  prominent  theater  artists,  it  pricked  some  people  to  go,  oh,  wait,  what? Because  we  talk  about  diversity  in  the  arts  just  the  way  we used to  talk  about  diversity  in  the  workplace.  We just  can't  find  enough  quality  black  engineers.
 I  wrote  a  letter  the  season  before  last,  I  think  it was, that  I  found  out  that  the  gentleman  playing  Otello  was  white  and  was  performing  in  blackface.  I  wrote  to  them  and  I  said-

 

00:15:52
David Campt: You've  really got  to  be  kidding.

 

00:15:54
Ron Simons: Oh  no,  I'm  very  serious.  Very  serious.

 

00:15:55
David Campt: This  is  on  Broadway?

 

00:15:57
Ron Simons: No, no.  This is at  the  Metropolitan  Opera.

 

00:15:59
David Campt: Oh,  Lord.

 

00:16:01
Ron Simons: One  of  the  premier opera  houses  in  the  world.

 

00:16:05
David Campt: Oh,  Lord.

 

00:16:07
Ron Simons: I  had  to  write  a  letter  to  say,  seriously?  I'm  going  to  tell  you  why  I think and I'm going to  tell  you  what  they said to me.
 They  said  to  me  that  we  have  the  highest  standards  of  excellence  at  the  Metropolitan  Opera.

 

00:16:19
David Campt: Not  the  standards  argument.

 

00:16:21
Ron Simons: There  are  no  artists  who  are  at  the  level  of  artistry  than  this  person  who  we  have  hired  to  play  this  role.  So  that's  what  they  said.

 

00:16:34
David Campt: He must be  the  Michael  Jordan  of  opera,  if  that's  the  case.

 

00:16:38
Ron Simons: So  it's  my  point  of  view  is that  the  person  who  was  running  that  place  really  had  a  bunch  of  issues  around  racism  that  he  was  not  willing  to  talk  about,  and  knew  that  he  should  not  talk  about  because  it  would  be  very  detrimental  to  him  and  the  Metropolitan  Opera,  even  though  the  number  of  people  go  to  the  Metropolitan  Opera  are  not  terribly  diverse.

 

 If  you  go  to  see  one  of  those  operas,  number  one,  they  are  insanely  expensive,  but  number  two,  they  seem  to  be  designed  for,  and  this  is  probably  not  fair  to  say,  European  people  of  European  extract.  That's  my  sense.  I  think  that's  so  because  rarely  is  an  opera  done  that  invites  people  such  as  Porgy  and  Bess.  When  you  do  Porgy  and  Bess,  everybody  wants  to  come  out,  all  right?  Because  white  folks  will  come  out.  Black  folks  is  like,  oh,  this  is  our  story.  We  definitely  should  come  and  support  this.  Right?
 So  I  say all that to  say  that  systemic  racism  still  exists.

 

00:17:38
Bill Curtis: Hold  that  thought,  because  I  just  wanted  to  say  probably  the  most  profound  and  emotional  performance  playing  George  Washington  was  played  by  a  black  man  in  Hamilton.  It  was  more  convincing  than  any  other  time  that  I've  seen  that  character,  to  your  point.
 Okay,  now,  where  were  you?

 

00:17:58
Ron Simons: Then  we  need  to  know.  We  need  to  go  along  that.  How  did  that  strike  you?  Tell me more about that.

 

00:18:01
Bill Curtis: As  a  white  guy,  when  they  first  came  up  on  stage,  you're  surprised.  Wow,  they've  got  a  black  George  Washington.  About  four  minutes  later,  you're  totally  on  board.  You're  completely  absorbed.

 

00:18:15
Ron Simons: But  why  was  it so affecting, though?  Why  was  it  so  affecting?

 

00:18:18
Bill Curtis: You're  probably  taken  from  a  little  bit  of  shock  that,  hey,  there's  a  black  George  Washington,  to,  wow,  that  was  really  powerful.

 

00:18:29
Ron Simons: I'm  wondering  if  you  had  seen  another  actor  who  was  white,  who  was  as  equally  good  at  his  acting  and  his  singing,  if  you  would  have  found  Hamilton,  not  having  any  people  of  color  in  it,  as  effective.

 

00:18:44
David Campt: Or  that,  and  would  you  have  found  that  performance  as  affecting,  as  well  as  the  overall  thing?  You  tell  me.

 

00:18:51
Bill Curtis: I  do  think  you're  right.  I  think  that  you  learn  that  all  of  a  sudden,  four  minutes  in  when  you  become  color  blind  and  you're  just  watching  the  performance,  it's  a  pretty  powerful  thing. I've  got  to  give  it  to  you,  would  I  have  traveled  that  far  and  be  so  profoundly  effected  if  it  had  been  a  white  guy  who  played  that  part,  I  don't  know.

 

00:19:11
David Campt: I  don't  think  you  became  colorblind.  I  think  that  the  fact  that  they  were  not  white  is  actually  enhancing  your  experience  of  what  happened.  That's  why  I  asked  the  question  of  what  would  have  happened  had  just  that  performer  been  white,  how  that have  been  different?  I  think  that  them  being  not  white,  but  performing  these  iconic  historical  white  figures,  is  part  of  like  you  connect  with  like  how  those  people  lived  up  to  what  they  said  and  didn't  because  of  who's  performing  it.

 

00:19:39
Ron Simons: And  the  level  of  extraordinary  artistry  that  was  exhibited  on  that  stage.

 

00:19:44
Bill Curtis: So  one  of  the  things  that  you  mentioned  the  other  day  when  we  talked  about  Broadway,  Ron,  was  the  challenge  of  a  black  man  getting  a  grant  and  getting  the  funding  to  build  a  show.  Why  is  that?

 

00:19:56
Ron Simons: Well,  I  think  part  of  the  reason  that  there  are  so  few  African  American  producers  on  Broadway  is  multifaceted.  One,  as  a  general  rule,  we  don't  come  from  types  of  families  where  our  Rolodex  is  as  powerful  as  our  white  compadres.  I  couldn't  call  my  cousin  who  can  write  me  a  check  for $ 250,000.  I  can't  call  my  friend  David  who'd  write  me  a  check  for $ 250,000.  Because  I  know  very  few  people  who  can  write  that  check  and  do  that.  Whereas  many  people  I  know  either  come  from  money  themselves  or  they  come  from  a  network  of  people  that  are  very  affluent.
 So  that's  the  one  thing.  So  it's  a  barrier  to  entry  by  not  having  access  to  the  funds  that  you  need  to  put  on  a  show.

 

00:20:45
David Campt: Parenthetically,  just to  be  clear,  black  wealth/ white  wealth,  10  to  1.  what  Ron  is  saying  is  born  out  by  actual  stats  about  wealth  among  different  groups.

 

00:20:54
Bill Curtis: It  sounds  to  me  like  you've  got  a  lot  of  shows  out  there  that  are  good  at  entertaining.  Yours  accomplished  that  and  also  sent  a  message.  I  would  think  that there  would  be  more  powerful  arts  patrons'

 money  for  someone  like  you  than  otherwise.

 

00:21:09
Ron Simons: Yeah,  I  would  agree.  The fact of the  matter  is,  however,  while  that  is  true,  there are  a  number  of  people who have told  me  on  even  the  shows  that  I  am  producing  today,  you  know,  be  it  Blue,  Thoughts  of  a  Colored  Man,  or  the  revival  of  For  Colored  Girls,  who  feel,  and  I'm  just  saying  this  is  my  perception,  they  feel  it's  too  risky.  For  me,  that's  coded,  oh,  it's  a  black  show.  Okay?  That  risk,  they  perceive  that  investing  in  a  story  about  African  Americans  or  people  of  color  is  too  risky  because  at  the  end  of  the  day  people  who  come  to  see  Broadway  shows  don't  want  to  go  see  a  show  about  black  people.

 

 Which  is  the  same  thing  I  ran  into  when  I used  to  produce  films.  You  know,  international  sales  buyers  will  often  tell  me,  no,  black  content  just  doesn't  do  very  well  overseas.  Guess  what?  If  that's  your  mindset,  you  won't  bring  any  over,  and  so  you'll  never  know  whether  or  not  it  would  make  money  or  be  successful  or  not  because  it  becomes  a  self  fulfilling  prophecy.  You  can't  make  money  if  it's  not  out  there.
 So  my  job  that's  challenging  for  me  is  to  help  people  understand  that  just  because  it's  African  American  does  not  mean  it's  more  or  less  risky.  In  fact,  my  job  as  a  storyteller  is  to  tell  the  universal  themed  stories  of  redemption,  stories  of  true  love,  of  family  love  and  affair.  At SimonSays,  we  put  a  different  lens  on  that  universal  theme  so  that  you  can  go  in.

 

A lot  of  artists  will  tell  you  that  the  more  specific  an  art  piece  is  and  the  more  specific  of  a  culture  and  the  people  are  in  that  organization,  the  more  universal  will  be  the  appeal  and  the  universal  adaptation  of  that  story.
If you  really  want  systemic  change,  there  needs  to  be  diverse  representation  at  every  level  of  Broadway.  We've  done  a  decent  job  up  here  with  the  people  on  stage.  The  producers?  Well,  they  are  five  black  producers  out  of  the  hundreds  of  producers,  where  when  I  came  on,  there  were  two  of  us.  But  it does  not  represent  the  30%  that  we  are  in  the  United  States.

 

 Then  it  becomes  the  theater  owners,  where  there's  not  a  single  person  of  color  at  all  at  any  theater  that's  owned.  They  tend  to  be  older  and  they  are  white.  Here's  the  thing.  They  are  the  most  powerful  in  that  equation.  Because  even  as I, as a producer, and  I  have  a  show  that  I  want  to  produce,  and I'm like,  oh  my  God,  this  is  great.  I've  got  this  great  cast.  I've  got  these  people.  The  fact of  the  matter  is  if  some  theater  owner  does  not  say  you  can  do  your  show in  my  theater,  it  won't  be  on  Broadway.
 So  if  there  wants  to  be  real  systemic  change,  if  there  wants  to  offer  some  level  of  power  to  (inaudible)   someone  who  does  not  look  like  everyone  else  around  the  table,  there  needs  to  be  an  invitation  to  say,  we  want  you  to  be  a  part  of  this.  We  will  do  things  to  help  bring  that  person,  or  you,  or  those  people,  to  the  table.

 

00:24:05
David Campt: There's  a  hunger  in  the  American  culture  to  actually  deal  with  our  racial  history  and  our  racial  reality.  I  would  encourage  people  in  the  Broadway  realm  to  reevaluate  what  is  the  role  of  messages  about  race  in  the  theater?  If  you're  going  to  do  that,  it's  important  that  you  try  to  make  sure  that  the  levels  of  the  hierarchy  that  are  overly  white,  change.
 So  if you're  really going  to  try  to  diversify  your  messages,  then  you  might  want  to  also  look  at  the  institutions  that  you  have  and  what  needs  to  happen  so  that  those  institutions,  top  to  bottom,  reflect  the  multicultural  diversity  that  America  is.

 

00:24:43
Ron Simons: I  think  the  reason  why  more  black  people  or  people  of  color  don't  come  to  Broadway  is  for  two  reasons.  Either,  A,  they  don't  see  themselves  represented  in  the  stories,  or,  B,  they're  not  invited.
 What  we  tend  to  do  from  an  advertising  and  marketing  perspective,  we  spend  the  vast  majority  of  our  money  and  dollars  on  advertising  in  the  New  York  Times, and  The  New  Yorker,  and  et  cetera,  et  cetera,  which  really  is  where  the  core,  early  core,  audience  is.  Which  is  to  say  white  women  between  the  ages  of 50 and  70.  So  I  hit  it.  Your  show  must  stay  open  long  enough  so that  the  tourists  can  come  and  see  your  show.  The  ad  spending  must  reflect  the  fact  that  you  are  in  fact  interested  in  having  a  diverse  audience  to  pull.
 Now,  there  are  times  when  you  don't  even  need  to  do  that.  If  you went to  go  see  A  Raisin  in  the  Sun  with  P.  Diddy  and  Sanaa  Lathan,  I  had  never  seen  that  many  black  people  in  the  theater  in  my  life.  Why?  Because  it  was  perceived  as  their  story.  The  word  of  mouth,  which  is  a  very  powerful  tool  on  Broadway,  was  ginormous  for  that  piece.  Right?  So  they  invited,  to  a  small  degree,  black  people  to  that,  but  they  told  a  story  by  one  of  the  greatest  African  American  playwrights  in  history.  So  they  felt  welcome.
 This  is  where  David  and  I  completely  overlap,  right?  Because  I  know  that  storytelling  is  the  most  effective  medium  for change on  the  planet.  Because  if  I  can  tell  you  a  good  story,  that  means  that  you  can  empathize  with  me  and  understand  what  my  struggle,  challenges,  loves,  beliefs  are,  even  though  you  don't  look  like  me,  sound  like  me,  eat  my  food,  listen  to  my  music.  The  storytelling  component  is  critical.

 

00:26:26
David Campt: What  I'm  trying  to do  is  get  people  to  tell  their  own  stories  as  a  (crosstalk)  to each  other.

 

00:26:31
Ron Simons: Yep.

 

00:26:32
Bill Curtis: Basically,  start  by  communicating,  and  then  take  action  from  there.  Don't  forget  to  actually  talk  to  each  other.

 

00:26:39
Ron Simons: That's  right.  And  this  is  the  thing that's a  great  benefit  of  storytelling.  Storytelling  builds  community.  We  sat  in  a  room  and  we  watched  Hamilton.  That  connected  us  to  a  whole  bunch  of  other  people  out  there  who  love  Hamilton  that  we  can  connect  with,  agree  with,  want  to  talk  about,  want  to  sing  along  with.  The  same  thing  for  if  you're  dealing  with  racism-

 

00:26:57
David Campt: Well,  that's interesting.

 

00:26:58
Ron Simons: And  talking  about  racism,  then you  have  to  have  you  talking  about  racism.  Hey,  Ted,  come  over  here.  What do you think  about  such  and  such?  Now  we  have  three  people.  Soon  you  have  a  community  of people. It's  not  just  you,  the  lone  voice.  It  is  a  community  of  people  who  are  working  together  to  affect  change.

 

00:27:15
Bill Curtis: We've  got  a  long  road  ahead.  I  really  appreciate  you  guys  coming  and  joining  us  today.  Dr.  David  Campt,  I  really  appreciate  you  giving  us  a  little  taste  of  the  White  Ally  Toolkit.  It's  The  Dialogue  Company,  right?

 

00:27:28
David Campt: Whiteallytoolkit. com.  I'm  starting  a  new  cohort  of  people  with  an  online  course  where  people  are  encouraged  to  go  through  this  incremental  process  of  learning  these  methods  where  the  homework  is  basically  talking  to  people.  But  also  we're  trying  to  get  the  Facebook  likes  up,  so I would say that  people  come  into  our  Facebook  page  at  White  Ally  Toolkit,  because  no  matter  what  they  say,  all  likes  matter.

 

00:27:54
Bill Curtis: Ron  Simons  at  SimonSays  Entertainment.  Is  there  another  way,  Ron, that you want people to  get  ahold  of you?

 

00:28:01
Ron Simons: We have  a  Facebook  page.  Our  website  is  www. simonsaysentertainment. com.  You  can  see  the  work,  a  number  of  the  pieces  that we  have  going  on,  and  just  sign  up  for  the  newsletter.  If you  really  want  to  find  out  what's  happening,  when  it's  happening,  please  visit  the  website  and  let  us  know  who  you are.

 

00:28:19
Bill Curtis: Ron  Simons  and  Dr.  David  Campt,  thank  you  so  much  for  giving  us  your  time  and  insight.  Have  a  good  day,  everybody.

 

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 This  episode  was  produced  and  edited  by  Mike  Thomas,  audio  engineering  by  Michael  Kennedy,  and  the  theme  music  was  composed  and  performed  by  Celeste  and  Eric  Dick.  Thanks  for  listening.
( singing)

 

00:29:08
Announcer: From  CurtCo  Media.  Media  for  your  mind.

Media for Your Mind
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