London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East, which will be staging the play “Tambo & Bones” for one month starting on June 16, is asking white people not to attend the July 5 performance, arguing that black theatergoers should be “free from the white gaze” on that night, the UK Daily Express reported.
The July 5 performance is being billed as a “Black Out” event, which the theater describes as creating an environment where black audiences “can experience and discuss” the performance “free from the white gaze.”
Matthew Xia, the play’s director, justified the “Black Out” performance by noting that playwrights and directors both in the UK and the United States have been creating “safe spaces” for black audiences in recent years so they can “explore complex, nuanced race-related issues.”
Xia said in the theater’s press release that because “Tambo & Bones” “unpicks the complexity of Black performance in relation to the white gaze,” it was important to create such a safe space.
While the theater’s website makes it clear that no one will be excluded from attending its productions, the accompanying promotional material suggests that white audience members would not be welcome during the July 5 performance.
The theater’s decision to go along with Xia’s planned black-only “safe space” was met with pushback from Bedfordshire commissioner Festus Akinbusoye, the UK’s first black police and crime commissioner, who warned that excluding audience members based on race sets a “poor and dangerous precedent.” He “strongly urged” the theater to cancel the planned “Black Out” performance.
Akinbusoye told the UK Telegraph that the blacks-only performance “runs contrary” to the “education and enrichment ethos.”
However, broadcaster Sir Trevor Phillips, a former London assembly chair, supported the planned “Black Out” performance, arguing that the theater isn’t banning whites from attending the play since they can go on any other night. Phillips said it is “completely lawful” to hold performances for specific audiences.