A new class takes stage

New course teaches students about racism and bias in theater

Nicole McIsaac, Copy Editor

Quinnipiac University’s theater program will offer students a brand new three-credit fine arts course in the spring 2021 semester called “Landscapes and Lenses” (DR 200), which centers around racism and bias in theater. 

The virtual class will be held every Thursday from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and any student can take the course regardless of prior theater experience or affiliation. As of publishing, there are 16 seats in the class, nine of which are available for reservation.

The course is focused around teaching critical engagement with the field of theater through application of social justice theory.

“It’s our responsibility as a theater program to make sure that we’re training students with theater education, as well as training them for making the theater an inclusive place without bias and without exclusionary practices,” said Kevin Daly, associate professor of theater. “It is time to start acknowledging the racism, biased and exclusionary practices that take place in our industry.”

Daly said that although racism and bias have been apparent in the performing arts for a long time, the formation of the course was an immediate result of recent social justice movements and the killing of George Floyd. 

“It wasn’t until then that we were able to hear these cries for change within the industry,” Daly said. “Although there are a lot of reasons for that, I think the primary reason stems from our white privilege allowing us to pretend and convince ourselves that the theater was an all inclusive place.” 

In the aftermath of the social justice movement, a collective group of Indigenous and Black professionals in the theater industry wrote a statement called Dear White American Theater with a list of demands of change. Daly said that these demands rang true to him due to his personal experience in professional and college theater as well as running the university’s program. 

“This course that we’re putting on the books is a response to that as well,” Daly said. “Unfortunately, it’s a reactive response. I wish we could have been proactive. I wish we could have not needed the entire country to take to the streets in protest for us to be able to realize that this was happening within our industry.”  

Azure D. Osborne-Lee, an award-winning theater maker, will teach the class in two separate parts: racist, bias and exclusionary practices that exist in theater and the celebration of underappreciated and underrepresented artists, plays and theater makers. 

“My personal description of the course is taking a look of what’s happening in the theater world and then taking a moment to appreciate all of the artists that don’t get the attention they deserve,” Daly said. “I think individuals who take the course will come away with a wealth of knowledge that they’ve never heard of before and they should have.” 

Students within all sectors of Quinnipiac’s educational programs are intrigued by the addition of the course and see the need for discussion on the topic.

“It’s important for students to learn about how racism and bias is embedded in our everyday lives,” said Sasha Gluzberg, a freshman public relations major. “This class could be a stepping stone into a higher education and hopefully encourage students to want to lead a better society.”

Although some students are unable to take the course due to scheduling conflicts, they are excited to hear the program is taking steps toward educating the university’s community on real social issues that take place within the theater industry.

“I’ve heard about the course, but can’t take it since I’ve decided to go part time next semester,” said Nicole Gibson, senior theater major. “I think that the course is important for students to learn about and take because in our society today, we still witness acts of racism around the world. By taking this class, students will be able to delve deep into discussions and learn about racism — and one day they might be inspired to take action in order to stop racism from happening.”  

Daly said he doesn’t want the discussion to stop with the addition of this course and plans to find more ways that the program will address similar social issue topics. The DR 200 course is intended to be brought through a series of committees at the university to be made a permanent course if it runs successfully as a special topic class for a couple of semesters. 

“This is just the beginning of a long overdue period of change that’s going to happen,” Daly said. “Some of the things that need to happen is the need for more faculty experts with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences. Without that, we’re going to continue to have blind spots.”