Editor’s note. On March 15, I published an opinion piece on the blog championing the idea that it was time for Nashville to be recognized for its extraordinary theatrical arts. Response to the post was overwhelming positive, though some commenters on social media said it failed to acknowledge the contributions of minority theater in its broad assessment of local theater companies. Shawn Whitsell, Nashville actor, writer and theater director was one of those voices. While I felt he was, in part, responding to some issues not necessarily in the intended scope of the original post, I knew he was right. My hope is that publishing his response here in its entirety will advance the conversation. – Joe Pagetta
By Shawn Whitsell
While I love the sentiment of the piece (Nashville Deserves Recognition as a Center for the Theatrical Arts,” Tuesday, May 15) and applaud the writer for shining much-deserved light on Nashville theater, I was disappointed to see that theatre companies like mine (the Destiny Theatre Experience), Mary McCallum’s SistaStyle Productions and Michael L. Walker’s Dream 7 Theatre Productions were excluded. DTE was founded in 2007, producing 3-4 shows a year at the Darkhorse Theater alone (and even more if I include other local venues).
The same can be said for SistaStyle and Dream 7, both of which have been around since the early 2000’s. All three of our companies have banded together to produce the Shades of Black Theatre Festival every year since 2006. The amount of original work that has come from Michael, Mary and I in the past few years is something that should also be noted. There have been over 30 original plays from the three of us, combined. I have personally contributed 11 original full-length plays that have been produced on a Nashville stage. In 2014, my theater company produced seven of those plays for an event called “7 Plays In 7 Days,” in which we performed a different play each night for seven days straight to celebrate the company’s 7th anniversary.
What we bring to the Nashville theater landscape are voices from African American artists that don’t get as many opportunities as their white counterparts. We have provided spaces for new and experienced black actors and artists (as well as many actors who are not black) to explore, learn, grow and share their gifts on a consistent basis. We’ve provided ongoing opportunities for Nashville’s African American residents to see themselves and their experiences reflected onstage. Many black actors that work with some of the theater companies mentioned in the article got their start (and continue to work with) one or more of our companies. It’s also important to point out the work of veteran theatre artists like Barry Scott and his American Negro Playwright Theatre, Kenny Dozier’s Kennie’s Playhouse Theatre and Jeff Carr’s Amun Ra Theatre before it closed its doors a few years ago. And there are others!
I don’t think you can talk about Nashville theater as a whole, as a community, as a family, without a mentioning us as well.
Once again, I have nothing against this well-intentioned writer. It’s a great piece and I appreciate the spirit in which it was written. I don’t want to ruin all the warm and fuzzies you felt when reading it, but this type of thing has happened in other ways (beyond articles) and I would be doing a disservice to the entire Nashville arts community if I were to remain silent. There is a broader issue at hand and Mr. Pagetta’s piece has actually helped start a much-needed conversation.
In closing, I’d like to say, I am very proud to be a part of this loving, uber-talented arts community and appreciate those individuals who acknowledge my place at the table.