Mixed Blood Theatre excluded from national theater conclave because of race

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Mixed Blood Theatre, nationally renowned for artistic value and cultural authenticity, is being discriminated against. Specifically in the person of founding artistic director Jack Reuler, generally in the spirit of the place Reuler dedicated to the mission of Martin Luther King, Jr. – who believed in acknowledging character and not bothering about birthday suits. It turns out, however, that Theater Communications Group, one of the most powerful theatre organizations in the country, has organized a conclave of theaters that employ artists and serve audiences of color and Mixed Blood wasn’t asked along. Because Reuler has the wrong color skin.

It bears noting that said artistic value and cultural authenticity are evinced by three decades of work that has garnered, among other honors, The Minnesota Council of Non-Profits’ 2004 Anti-Racism Initiative Mission Award, the Actors’ Equity Association’s Rosetta LeNoire Award for non-traditional casting, The Minnesota Council on Black Minnesotans’ Dream Keeper Award and The Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission’s Outstanding Achievement Award.

Reuler is rolling with the punch. He shared with Insight News a letter he sent to TCG head Ben Cameron. It’s not an official appeal of the exclusion, more of an informal appeal to reason. Part of it reads, “While I understand the current decision to exclude Mixed Blood from the constituents of color because of my leadership, I am making a plea to be part of that group and its analysis of issues of the field. My being white is Mixed Blood’s cross to bear. The institution and its ambitions can and should be a part of that greater conversation and will allow the success of the succession process, allowing the board to attract a future leader who can be included in a national context.”

Reuler told Insight News, “I am not outraged by our omission and the omission of White-led theatres.” Well, the group’s agenda is to address creative and operational issues at race-based theatres. So, it’s not like anyone’s trying to keep funding from Mixed Blood. And Reuler observes, “I have always accepted that my cross to bear in running this theater is that I’m White.” Still, there’s such a thing as right and wrong. Consider the production MB now has up, Samm-Art Williams’ The Dance on Widow’s Row.

The staging brings to these parts the work of the author who created the timeless Negro Ensemble Company hit Home. It employs a top-flight cast: Mixed Blood veterans Ninoska Mancebo-Meyer and Warren C. Bowles, Penumbra Theatre Company mainstays Regina Williams, James A. Williams and Austene Van along with Kevin D. West and, new to MB, Peggy Blow. If Reuler went out and got himself dyed from head to toe, it would not increase the significance of this show.

Mixed Blood Theatre’s worst failing, for years, hasn’t been Reuler’s skin color. Ironically, it has been that he, indeed, seems unmindful that, just as cultures of color merit illumination, so do the lives of some White folk. Revolutionary martyr John Brown, after all, went to the gallows for his fight against slavery. However, Mixed Blood’s school outreach series, which offers shows about Dr. King, Jackie Robinson and astronaut Ronald McNair – as well as experiences from Asian, Latino and Native American cultures — has yet to acknowledge Brown. If anything, you can safely accuse Reuler of bending a bit too far over backward to do the right thing. Not of failing to qualify as the leader of a theatre where the human dignity of all colors and ethnicities is integral to its vision.

Directed by Thomas W. Jones II, Samm-Art Williams’ The Dance on Widow’s Row runs now through December 11. Performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $11 to $28. Address: Alan Page Auditorium at Mixed Blood’s historic firehouse theatre, 1501 South 4th Street in Minneapolis. Box Office: (612) 338-6131 or www.mixedblood.com.

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