Howard has worked with most of the University’s student-led theater groups and even the professional group Playmakers. Liz’s experiences with diversity issues catalyzed her creation of Black Arts Theatre Company in 2019.
Liz is accompanied by other powerful minority voices in the theater community.
Eric Groves, workshop coordinator and diversity and inclusion chairperson of Pauper Players, said he also has often felt isolated in theater rehearsals as a person of color.
”It did feel isolating at times just to be the only person of color during certain rehearsals. It made me want to help promote more diversity and inclusion within theater,” Groves said.
While their companies are working to foster inclusion, Pinnamaraju and Groves both acknowledge another company largely securing their comfort in theater and desire to integrate formidable actions of change — and that's the Black Arts Theatre Company.
”So I got to see their show, 'Black Girl, Interrupted,' and it really pushed me and really showed me that theater can be this diverse," Groves said.
Some people of color in theater still feel tokenized. And if they are successful, they are told they merely are helping fulfill a diversity slot.
Howard firsthand felt the spite of the theater community when she and two other Black undergraduates were cast in a production this past year. Despite the talent the three undergraduates possessed, she said it was commonplace for them to hear members of the theatre community equate their success to their complexion.
She said there is discrimination in the UNC theater community beyond race, like colorism, sexism and homophobia. It's portrayed as a welcoming, inclusive place, she said, but it often fails to live up to that.
Groves said these issues also play out in the types of shows that are performed.
“It's just really bizarre to me that we see that like some old timey musicals and for the sake of, ‘Oh, the music's good,'" Groves said. “But there's other musicals written that also have good music and don't have these sexist, racist, undertones.”
Since BATC started, Howard said there has been a noticeable increase in interest among performers of color.
“Look at all these Black and other students of color,” she said, “who want to be actors and theater artists and technical artists that were kind of in the shadows and never popped out for a show because they don't feel like that's their space. They don't feel like they belong.”
Pauper Players formed a diversity and inclusion committee, led by Groves, in order to find and address the problems within their company.
Pinnamaraju believes the online collaborative itself provides a gateway to open up the world of theater and increase the level of engagement regardless of their background or identity.
He said he knows that the online collaborative is not a long-term solution and believes the problematic structure of theater can not be solved by those only invited to discuss.
“Truth be told, I think the way to solve any issue is to just invite everybody to the table,” Pinnamaraju said.