Watch: 'Karens' are Alive and Well and Working on Broadway, According to Black Actor/Writer/Activist

Friday June 5, 2020

What is it like to be young, gifted and black and working on Broadway in the 21st century?

Fraught with racist attitudes, says actor and writer Griffin Matthews, who co-wrote the musical "The Invisible Thread" that played off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre in 2015 with Matt Gould (who he subsequently married). The year before the musical played Cambridge's American Repertory Theater with the title "Witness Uganda," under the direction of its artistic director Diane Paulus. Paulus also directed the New York production.

Matthews talks about his experiences with the show in a pointed video released this week he released on his Facebook page.

Prefacing his remarks by saying it has been "an extraordinarily difficult week for me" and "anxiety-inducing," he goes on to describe his experiences with both runs of the musical.

And finds an avatar in Karen Cooper, the angry, Central Park dog-owner who has become a meme for white racism after she made a hysterical call to the police that she was being threatened by an African-American man, a birdwatcher who only wanted her to leash her dog in an area of the park where they are required to.

"Here are just a few things that happened to me along the way: Strong-arming a Black writer after you've already purchased the rights to my work by saying, 'I will not produce your show if you do not change the title, exit your role as lead actor, and exit your role as lead writer' is a direct threat and that is Amy Cooper," Matthews said in the video as reported by Playbill.

"A director saying in a casting session that an actress doesn't look Black enough to be in Witness Uganda is what Black people call the paper bag test and that is Amy Cooper."

He went on to skew Second Stage for using the cast to perform and appear at a fundraiser for the company, promising them a donation to their charity, then reneging on the promise.

"Second Stage wanting to honor the work of Matt and I for their annual gala with the promise of a hefty donation to our charity, asking our entire cast to perform for free, and then parading us around their gala to talk about the importance of their risky endeavors, yet the donation never came, that is Amy Cooper," he says.

He went on, according to a report on Vulture, to say that some "reviewers described the show and cast in racist terms, without the producers defending the show; and where the show's director (Diane Paulus, though Matthews does not name her directly) shouted that she did not work for him.

"'White people literally need not one black person to become a Broadway sensation," Matthews said, adding that Broadway is filled with racist Amy Coopers — like white people who believe themselves to be allies. "I may never make it to Broadway for simply speaking out against the horrific treatment that I received, and all the Amy Coopers will be fine ... They do not need black people to reach the pinnacle of success, and that is why I say, burn it down.'"

He concluded with the following:

"The institution isn't working. It never was. Black artists have been keeping a secret from you. We have been performing on stage and off. That's the secret. And we are tired. We are tired of keeping it. We are done. I am done. The Great White Way needs a real black friend immediately. And one more thing, 'Book of Mormon' is racist. There, I said it."

"As of press time, Second Stage, 'Invisible Thread' director Diane Paulus, and developing producer Kevin McCollum had not returned requests for comments. This story is developing," writes Playbill.

Read an interview with Matthews and Gould published when "Witness Uganda" premiered at the American Repertory Theater in 2014.

Read the review of the American Repertory Theater's production of "Witness Uganda" in 2014.

Watch the complete video below:

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