“The Help” or Working While Black in the Theater


Working in the theater as an African-American woman sometimes limits you to specific roles. It’s a blessing and a curse as we are either cast against type (me as Evita sportin’ a blonde wig) or only considered for roles that need belting, sass, and the usual amount of gospel riffs. I just opened a musical comedy with a cast of five incredible talented women. We each have distinct voices that shine in special moments through out the show. Mine, of course is hollerin’ out the gospel tinged number in the finale.  I sing throughout the show but this part is strictly sangin’ riffin’ time.

Now for “The Help.” After each show, we meet and greet the guests to thank them for supporting our show.  The majority compliment us, let us know they enjoyed the show and point out a particular scene that stood out. Most of the time, it’s a harmless experience. So imagine my utter shock when a blonde, fit, tight faced white woman (BOTOX alert), grabs my hand and says “You were wonderful!”  Before I could say thank you, she interrupts “I have a HOUSEKEEPER at home and I’m going to get her to LEARN YOUR SONG!!!! Just wonderful!!!. I stiffened, and with a robotic smile sputtered,
“Thank you for coming.” Confused of course, I’m trying to grasp what this woman is talking about.

Peer into a couple of my thoughts:

  • Wait, what, hell nawl!!!!! You sayin’ I remind you of your housekeeper cuz I’m black?
  • What makes you think she wants to sing? I guess there’s still a stereotype that ALL blacks sing and do it well!
    (cue for shucking and jivin’ music)
  • I’m not that far removed from several black women who’ve cleaned homes and play nanny to children who look nothing like them, but what’s that got to do with me????

I calmed down and I realized I literally reminded her of HER help, as in her hired help. As in, I don’t relate in any other way to African Americans help.  I’d like to nominate her for foot and mouth disease winner of the week, but I gather she’d have no idea why. Her tomfoolery filled compliment was way more a reflection of her poor perception/relationships with her housekeeper and other African Americans than how I presented myself.  So, if she comes to the show again, I might just have to get a glass of wine and have a fireside chat with her about how I make a mean brownie pie and would love to bring one especially made for her.  (Remember the scene in the HELP?) Nuff’ said….lol.

As for the roles for African American women, I will continue to seek and accept roles that allow me to maintain my dignity and integrity. Brownie jokes aside, I realize that it possibly will take another 50 years to end negative stereotypes. I’m so looking forward to our fireside chat.

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One thought on ““The Help” or Working While Black in the Theater

  1. Reminds me of Colton on the last season of SURVIVOR who said he wasn’t racist and was close with Black people, citing his housekeeper as the Black person in question. Hopefully your lady literally has a housekeeper who would sound good singing your song. But, there’s a sensitivity that should be taken into account when making these kinds of comments.
    (And there’s no way her housekeeper is going to sound better than you on ANY song.)

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