Dallas — Chad Cline, whose way into the performing arts was through comedy and improv, is directing the play White People. The comedy about race, presented by Churchmouse Productions, closes this weekend at the Bath House Cultural Center.
Cline, owner of Cline Salon in Dallas, has directed several Festival of Independent Theatres productions for Churchmouse, an offshoot of Pegasus Theatre, but this is his first mainstage production. Churchmouse has been having talk-backs and conversations about the themes in the play, and we caught up with Cline to talk about the show and how it handles a charged topic.
TheaterJones: What is the premise of White People?
Chad Cline: It’s a very close look a three characters in three class levels, and their views based on being a white person in today’s society and dealing with racism in all aspects, and the repercussions they have because of their views, and their children’s views as well.
How strong is the language, in terms of racial epithets?
They are in the play, but it’s never used as a slur. It’s a raw, open look at judgments that are placed on all races, based on our preconceived ideas of what it means to have braids in your hair, or different skin color, or different food or traditions.
What kind of conversations did you have with the actors about using the N-word ?
In the audition process, in picking out the sides [passages of dialogue] I wanted to see actors do, I wanted to see if they were going to be comfortable enough to say words that we’re not supposed to be saying; that they understand why it’s necessary within the context of this show.
Still, no matter the intent, it’s a hard word to say.
Absolutely, because it’s a word based on hate.
Has social media—and the fact that we get into so many heated debates with family and others on Facebook or in comment threads—made the issue of race more pronounced? We have a black president, but it doesn’t feel like we’re “post-racial,” as some have suggested.
There’s not more racism, but we are more aware of it because of the interface every day. Growing up, to go back to the whole Rodney King and LA riots thing, as a kid, I had never experienced or seen anything like that. That really stuck with me over the years. Now, because of social media and how readily available everything is, I think it’s more accessible and everyone is more aware of everything. I don’t think it’s necessarily more now. Racism has been a problem since the beginning of time, and it’s probably never going to fully go away unless we fully open up and have honest conversations about it, unless we put aside our fear and differences. We are all different, and that’s what makes it beautiful.
We as a nation walk around on eggshells trying to figure out what is right and wrong about what can and can’t be said; we’re so worried about hurting people’s feelings. As long as we’re basing things on acceptance and love, I don’t know what the problem is.
The play is a comedy, but could audience members be uncomfortable with laughing at a subject like this?
I don’t think it’s in any way offensive. I think it’s time to be honest and look at what we’re talking about in terms of race and intolerance. I hope the audience leaves the show being more open-minded, not just about race, but about being more accepting in general.