The tributes are all shepherded into a small room. Black, Hispanic, Asian; a plethora of different ethnicities represented. Some are even white. A panel of judges sit opposite, their eyes and clipboards already appraising. This was an audition, so why the hell did it feel like a gladiator pit? Oh right, only one of us is being cast. Such is the entertainment industry. We are all competing for a “diversity scholarship” offered by the improv troupe Second City. Glancing towards my peers, I take a moment to appreciate this rarely seen cultural mosaic. Only in Toronto. A beautiful East Indian girl meets my gaze. Sharing a quick smile before remembering that we’re each other’s competition. And so the token minority games begin.
It’s hard not to notice the lack of diversity on the other side of the table. Improvised theatre is extremely white. Most sects of comedy remain fiercely monolithic. Think cis liberal arts majors who watch Saturday Night Live. As they stumble over some particularly colorful names I gain some insight as to what it’s like to be them. Going through dozens if not hundreds of people vying for a few select spots. You’re looking for anything which allows you to quickly connect with someone. So maybe you go with the actor who looks like you. Or thinks like you. Identity politics at their best.
Definitely got a bit of a chip on my shoulder. The adjudicator calls my name. District 12 represent. Stepping forward for my solo piece, I pause. Take in the panel, and then us corralled on stage. Damn, they had it set up like some auction block. I could see certain a pathway set out for me. Be marginalized here, promoted there. Become the token black man on their roster, used in promotional brochures. With the unspoken understanding that I wouldn’t rock the boat. That I’d bite my tongue and avoid material which might upset the white masses. Cut the black power shtick. We need these white folk to give us a job.
Everybody’s staring. My inner monologue has left me outwardly silent. Oh no, word vomit. “So what’s the deal with these ethnic hunger games?” For a second, mouths just hang open in shock. The room explodes in laughter. Shit kills. Thoughts we were all having, finally said a loud. Heartened by the support, I continue lampooning the diversity aspect of these auditions. Were we really being asked to play up our racial idiosyncrasies? If only there was a cop here to shoot my ass. I’d be a shoe-in.
Thunderous applause and pats on the back follow me off stage. Scribbling away on their clipboards I get the distinct feeling I’ve pulled a Katniss Everdeen on the judges. Swallowing their blue pill, only to spit it out at the start of the games; with a middle finger to boot.
The group scenes are a riot. “Diversity” becomes a recurring punchline used by all the improvisers. It’s straight up rebellion. When it’s done, they thank, and usher us out; the outreach director’s gaze lingering on my retreating form.
No rejection email never comes. They ghost me instead. Through the grapevine, I hear higher ups did not enjoy my scathing social commentary. Not that they didn’t want a person of color in their cast. Just someone less Malcom and more Martin. Honest dialogue about race relations was still too much for some to handle. Whatever. Their loss. But I must’ve refreshed my inbox a hundred times hoping for a Moonlight moment. Come back Jordy, you’ve won!
Post audition, everybody just mills about the coatroom. The beautiful girl from earlier comes to chat. “What you said… was very brave. Somebody had to speak up.” Humbly brushing off the praise I lament on the fact that it had probably cost me the gig. She kisses her teeth, “If they won’t give a role to you, write it.” That hit home. Complaining about the lack of opportunities given to people of color would get us nowhere. We need to tell our own stories. The issue of fair representation was not going to be fixed by the selfsame gatekeepers who wouldn’t let us in. I get her cell, and we promise to link up. Time to make that all black production of Fiddler on the Roof.