Native Gardens poster art – choices

[This post is edited to include the reply to BAT’s comment on FaceBook.]

BAT is on FaceBook. Come and say, “Hi” sometime.

FaceBook is one of the places BAT gets feedback. Some is postive, and some not so much. Here is one coment, and BAT’s response.

From FaceBook:

Seriously? This is the image you chose for the show? Here is an important play about Latinx identity and conflict, written by an important Latinx playwright, and you put the white male as your poster image.

I wish you would think harder about the choices you make. Why do this play in the first place? Was it to show the issues inherent in the play, or simply to capitalize from the current popularity of the playwright and Latinx themes in general?

BAT’s response:

Thanks for your input.

You are right. A talented Latinx playwright wrote Native Gardens. It is a beautiful script, one that deserves to be on many stages. It is a comedy, but it looks at human relationships with amazing insight.

If you think BAT selected this play to “simply capitalize [on] the current popularity of the playwright and Latinx themes,” you are mistaken. Native Gardens is about much more than Latinx issues. It is also about the relationships between women; the relationships between men; differences in class; how couples work out their differences; how neighbors get along or don’t; how race and privilege may be an issue in all of those relationships; and how we are all much more alike than we are different.

Of the four main characters, two are Latinx; two are Caucasian: two are women: and two are men. Native Gardens explores issues related to all of the pairings and groupings you can make out of those four characters. So, to be fair, the artwork should have four people or none?

You worked with BAT. You know we put much thought into the artwork we use. We also know that in the 2010 Census (the last one available), 10.66% of the Burien population is Latinx and 75.74% is Caucasian.

Our marketing team looked at several options to maximize the number of people to come and see the show. Did our volunteer team make the best choice? You think we did not. I am sure there will be some women who will see the poster and agree with you that BAT’s decision was not the best. However, in their case, we were wrong because the person on the poster was not female.

If you have been following BAT’s posts and blog, you know BAT has already gotten pushback because some perceive Native Gardens as having a Latinx “agenda.” Our current culture is fractured along so many lines. When a theater does anything more than a farce from the 1950s, it takes a risk.

BAT has done what it can to do good theater that gets its audience to think, and maybe laugh along the way. Native Gardens has a Latinx author, but does that mean every aspect of the marketing must be Latinx? So, when there is a Caucasian author, every element of the marketing must be Caucasian? When the author is female, all aspects of marketing must be female? What attribute of the author or which of many themes in the script determines what the marketing should be? Keep in mind, marketing is trying to cut through the background noise, so the maximum number of people come and see the show.

Marketing that meets an agenda, but does not get people to the show is wasted money and does a disservice to the play. Of course, you have every right to disagree with the choices BAT made, and they may or may not have been the best choices. However, do not intimate those choices were made without thought, or to offend.

As for BAT selecting Native Gardens to take advantage of “Latinx themes in general,” I think saying that is quite a disservice. BAT is a small theater that is willing to gamble its existence to produce a fantastic script that, if you are right, has themes that are not directly relatable to the majority of its audience and donors. Despite BAT’s longevity, like so many small theaters, BAT is one poorly attended production away from closing its doors forever.

BAT disagrees with you. We think Native Gardens has much to say to everyone in the audience, and regardless of your ethnicity, Native Gardens will speak to you.

BAT is excited to produce Native Gardens. We hope the show draws large audiences. We also hope our willingness to produce a show about more than the stories of white men is seen as a positive addition to the voices in theater.

BAT is happy to offer you two comps to Native Gardens to come and see if we did the script justice. Then, I am happy to meet with you and discuss where BAT succeeded and where you think we failed.

The reply from FaceBook:

Thank you for your thoughtful response. Let me try to make my feelings on this issue very clear.

First of all, you are quite right – I HAVE worked with BAT in the past, and I know you all to be people of good will. I was thrilled to hear that you were producing Native Gardens, and very much hoped that this would be an opportunity for BAT to connect with the large percentage of the Burien community who identify as Latinx (currently listed as anywhere from 10% to 25%, depending on where you look for the numbers). This is why I reacted so strongly to the poster image I saw. While I am not attributing that image to malice, it does seem to indicate a serious disconnect from the material – or at least, a blind spot.

I have heard and read Ms. Zacarias’ comments and discussions of her process in creating this play. She stated very clearly that the main goal for her was to draw attention to the difficulties that she and other Latinx people have had in attempting to establish themselves as a part of the mainstream culture, especially when involved in what is widely considered “social climbing,” that is, trying to achieve equity in both workplace and community. While you are correct in stating that there are many dualities inherent in the script, this particular struggle is at the very heart of the play, and is what (in my opinion) adds to both the tension and humor of this work. So when you ask me if all the different aspects of the play need to be represented in the marketing, my answer is that the most important aspects certainly should be. I think that overlooking the culture clash that is the centerpiece of the play does both the play and the audience a disservice.

Now, I understand that marketing is extremely important in getting people to attend the theater, ANY theater. You are correct in saying that the goal is to convince as many people as possible to attend. Yet what of your Latinx neighbors who see this poster? Does it inform them that a prominent Latinx story by a prominent Latinx playwright is being performed in their neighborhood? It does not. Should it? I think it should, and here apparently is where we disagree. You say that this was not a thoughtless choice, and I accept that – but at best it feels like a missed opportunity. You say you received “pushback” for making the decision to produce this play – so why not reach out to a portion of the community that has traditionally avoided your theater in the past? Surely that would not be any more of a risk than deciding to produce the play in the first place.

Right now in the theater culture of our country, diversity is at the forefront of every conversation – and I have seen large, well-funded companies program plays that they have never considered in the past. They get grants based upon their new diversity, while smaller companies who have been doing the work of diversity for years go begging for funding scraps. It is this that prompted my comment about “capitalizing on the culture.” Now let me be very clear here – I am not atributing that kind of cynicism to BAT. As I have said, I know you folks, and I know how honest your motives are in producing theater (nor am I suggesting that you are in any way well-funded!). But this particular trend makes my blood boil when I think that Latinx culture is being taken advantage of. I apologize for implying that such is the case here; attribute it to a knee-jerk reaction, if you will be so kind. I don’t actually think you are doing that.

But intent is not the same as effect. You have said, “We also hope our willingness to produce a show about more than the stories of white men is seen as a positive addition to the voices in theater.” Well, it is, and it is appreciated. But what does this poster show? A white man “blowing his top.” Nothing in this image shows that this is not just another story of white men. Nothing in this image speaks to the lovely and humorous conflict of two cultures that is the basis of this play. Can you see how, to a Latinx theater artist who has spent a lifetime trying to exhibit my culture in American theater, this looks like nothing more than erasure? That is the effect that this poster image immediately had on me – and I don’t think I will be the only one.

I very much appreciate your offer of tickets to the show and conversation after. I was already planning to see it, though I will have to wait until my current show closes. I hope that my comments here will give you something to think about the next time you produce a play that is not “the stories of white men.” And I very much hope that will happen again soon.

Break legs!

BAT’s surresponce:

Once again, thank you for your input.

As I said, BAT spent a lot of time deciding on the poster art. I can see your point, and I am very glad you shared it. Erasure was not our intention, and to the extent that is how it comes across, we apologize. As BAT goes forward, attempting to be more inclusive rather than less, we will consider your comments.

Small theater marketing is much more of an art than science. We were mindful of views much like yours when we made our decision, but after much thought, we went another way. That being said, you have articulated your views in a way that is very hard to disagree with.

Theater thrives through collaboration. Your voice is now part of our process in future poster designs.

I, too, have seen the large, well-funded companies program plays that they never would have considered in the past. I also note that for a large part, they hedge the financial risk with grants based upon their newfound diversity awakening.

There is no grant money or big donor behind BAT’s selection and production of Native Gardens. There is no financial incentive for BAT to work at being more diverse. We are trying to be inclusive because it is the right thing to do. We chose Native Gardens because it is wonderful, and it should be on stage.

Thank you for speaking up.

Let me know when you’d like to see the show, and there will be a pair of comps waiting for you, and then a conversation.


If YOU want to judge for yourself if BAT did justice to the Native Gardens script, get your tickets HERE.

This entry was posted in Reviews, Shows. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Native Gardens poster art – choices

  1. Lance says:

    I take no ‘side’ in this argument. I do wonder how one determines the ethnicity of a person in a black and white photo?

    I hope the person posting the message joins us to see the performance.

    Hopefully, their opinion will be changed by it.

  2. Alex says:

    @Lance – “I do wonder how one determines the ethnicity of a person in a black and white photo”

    You have to be kidding, right?
    I guess no one has race in any B&W photo ever. This reads as a gotchya statement from a four year old, it is so asinine.

    Moving on from that point…
    It is wonderful that BAT is producing plays that have a LatinX perspective and experience. And I hope that despite missteps, that they continue to highlight minority voices. I understand that their audience may be white in majority, and bringing in the audience is paramount to continuing success, however there is a benefit to learning how to “code” images to speak to, and draw in, the audience you want without alienating the audience you have.

    It’s like the “queer coding” in films like Mulan, or Rattatoullie. You simply have to care enough, and be aware enough to add that layer of thought to your marketing. And let your graphic designers know what it is that you want to incorporate; they are not mind readers.

  3. Lance Bowman says:

    No. I was not kidding. And, no, I am not a 4 year old. I did not say that ‘no one has race in any B&W photo ever.’ That is your interpretation. I was simply looking at the photo you are having issues with and trying to determine the race of the individual for myself. Being 67 and having met many people of many ethnicities in my life I was attempting to put myself in your shoes and see what you were seeing. I am having trouble matching your rancor with the image portrayed in the poster. I understand where you may be coming from if you are a Latinx person yourself. But, I don’t know you, or where you’re coming from, just as you don’t know me, or where I’m coming from. To make ad hominem attacks with no knowledge of those you are attacking seems disingenuous, at best.

Comments are closed.