Interview: Emilio Rodriguez, Sam White and the Black and Brown Theatre Company of Detroit

When Playwright Emilio Rodriguez mentioned Black and Brown Theatre on twitter, I jumped for joy!  Black and Brown theatre, a company, Rodriguez started with award-winning Detroit artist Sam White, is set to provide opportunities for communities of color that have largely been left out of the “American Theatre” dialogue.  Their first showcase is in October and will feature work written, produced and featuring people of color.  I recently caught up with both of these inspiring artists to find out about their exciting new project, where they see it going in the future and what advice they have for artists of color.

via Facebook
What is your background?  What do you do?  How do you identify? 
S: I identify as black. I produce and direct theater.

E: I identify as Latinx. I am a theatre artist which enables me to work as an actor, playwright, director and producer and sometimes a mix of all 4 when needed.

 Why did you start Black and Brown theatre?
S: It’s currently a grassroots project that I hope inspires more consideration for artists of color. Inclusivity is a huge passion of mine.  It is my hope that this is a catalyst to do more under the Black and Brown moniker but to also inspire others who produce theater to do the same.

E: Sam and I have talked about it for a couple of years. Over 80 percent of the Detroit population identifies as Black and three major surrounding cities are almost entirely Arab American and Latinx, We hope to be a part of a movement in which all theatres can make sure everyone has a place to sit at the table.

Tell us about this showcase!
S: The showcase is what I think of as a pilot. I am hoping the same energy artists gave to auditioning will be reciprocated with audience turnout. We are hoping to showcase the great talent of this area from the writers to the actors. It’s exciting.
E: We are presenting six short plays written, directed and performed by theatre artists of color at the Charles H Wright African American History Museum in Detroit. It’s great to see how excited the Detroit community is about artists of color teaming up together to change the lack of representation. The NALAC institute I went to this summer talked about the movement toward unity between artists of color becoming a trend for the 2020’s. We’re excited about the timing of BandBTheatre in fitting in with that movement.

You said in your intro video “The Goal is to Fail”. What does that mean to you?
S: Emilio came up with that awesome goal, which makes amazing sense. Inclusivity is the key.
E: I originally told Sam this crazy idea that what if the company’s goal was to not be sustainable. Sam is one heck of a business woman so I didn’t know how she’d respond to that, but to my surprise she liked it. We worked together to flesh out this idea that we will work to develop, showcase, and empower theatre artists of color to work professionally in the area so that all of the Detroit area theatres will hire theatre artists of color in a manner that is equitable and representative of the city. Once that happens, we won’t be needed.

 Why is representation so important for Black, Brown and Afrolatino artists?
S: Mirrors are important. It’s crucial to see people who look like you doing what you aspire to do. It’s motivation and validation — two very important factors when you are on a journey that has ups and downs. The journey of creating meaningful work is never easy but when you have models to look up to, you really do feel like: if they can do it, I can do it, too. And, sometimes, when things get hard, those mirrors and models are all you have to hold onto.
E: Junot Diaz said it best when he talks about the common thread of monsters in fiction is that they can’t see themselves. Antithetically, when people can see themselves, we feel human. We feel like we belong and we feel like a part of a community. Theatre is my favorite art form because of the community it creates between people with both similar stories and different stories. When we have metaphorical mirrors and windows on stage, everyone is empowered to see and be seen.

What advice would you give to Black and Brown artists and writers. actors and playwrights?
S: Stay positive. Speak affirmatively. Be excellent. Call opportunities into your space with good energy and incredible work ethic. Support one another. Be a catalyst for change.
E: Follow us! And also, find your circle. I could never have done this without Sam. When you find people who have a similar vision and focus as you, it becomes easier to achieve your goals. They can help you not rant on Facebook and think realistically about budgets and timelines and find venues and develop a following. You can help them connect with other artists. You can both help each other create a movement that is bigger than yourselves.

 In 10 years, what do you see Black and Brown Theatre becoming?
S: I hope that it won’t be needed. I hope to see more artists of color producing and performing theatre. I look at it as a catalyst for change.
E: I agree with Sam. Before we reach that 10 year mark, I would like for us to have a full season, professional development opportunities and mentorship programs from guests artists of color who work professionally in other cities.

 Where can we find more information on your company and your work?
S:Our Twitter handle is @BandBTheatre and our Facebook is

E: We also have a great video that Sam shot and edited here.

Thank you so much Sam White and Emilio Rodriguez for sharing your journey and your project.  We wish you all the best!
❤ #Teatrolatinegro

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