Broadway’s ‘Slave Play’ Holding Performances for ‘Black-Identifying’ Audiences Only

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 06: People walk through the Theater District in Manhattan on May 06, 2021 in New York City. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that Broadway theaters can re-open at full capacity starting on September 14, since being first closed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic …
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The critically acclaimed drama Slave Play will bring back performances for black-only audiences when it returns to Broadway for a limited engagement starting November, with producers saying the invitation-only performances will be limited to “Black-identifying” people.

Slave Play was nominated for 12 Tony Awards but struck out during Sunday’s ceremony, taking home no awards despite being hotly tipped to dominate Broadway’s biggest night. The time-hopping drama, written by Jeremy O. Harris, tells the story of interracial relationships throughout American history, using slavery as the central motif to explore racism, microaggressions, and other contemporary ideas.

The play will return to Broadway starting November 23 and run through January 23 at the August Wilson Theatre, after which it will transfer to Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum.

In their announcement, producers said they are also bringing back black-only audiences in what they are calling “Black Out” performances. These will be “invitation-only performances to an all-Black-identifying audience so they can experience and discuss the play.”

Slave Play‘s original Broadway run featured several “Black Out” performances.

Robert O’Hara, the play’s director, explained to the New York Times in 2019: “We as black people have always had to find a space inside whiteness.”

He said that viewing a performance among an all-black audience “sort of allows you to put off some of the trauma that you carry around every day in the world, just having to live inside a black body, and certainly a black, queer body.”

Harris, the playwright, told American Theatre magazine all-black audiences responded differently to the play.

“It felt like we turned the ‘hallowed’ space of a theatre into just a building—a building with new possibilities and rules. People got out of their seats to go to the bathroom when they needed, people spoke, people laughed loudly, talked back, people (mon dieu!) texted with their ringers off and screens turned low,” he said.

“And the whole room felt free. It was like a concert more so than a play and like people in the room were discovering a new amazing band.”

While barring certain races from a public event is clearly illegal, Slave Play appears to have skirted potential legal trouble by making the black-only performances accessible exclusively by invitation.

The Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain was sued in 2017 for holding female-only screenings of Wonder Woman.

Slave Play donated $10,000 to the National Bailout Fund in 2020 at the height of the Black Lives Matter riots that laid waste to major cities.

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