It's the new black.
Shavanna Calder is an award-winning actress originally from Northern California. You may have seen her in the Networks national tour of Hairspray the musical as any of the Dynamites or Little Inez! Other regional credits include: High School Musical (Taylor), Caroline, or Change (Emmie), and Parade (Angela) amongst other roles. She recently finished her Masters in Musical Theatre at NYU and completed her undergraduate degree at Wellesley College. Along with her passion for performing she currently serves as the Editor of Arts in Color.
Gaudy: Tell us the story of Arts in Color. What inspired you to start the blog, and what has surprised you about the process?
SC: I needed an artistic outlet, but wanted to feel like I was creating something that would benefit others by filling a specific need. I grew up loving theatre, especially music theatre, but I encountered situations that I often had to navigate alone based on my racial background (i.e. how to wear my hair for shows, do my makeup, find dance attire in my color, and also find performers and opportunities I could identify with as a young performer). I was recently sidelined by an injury that resulted in me not having the ability to perform as often and thought – well this is the time to start this (the site)- so I did!
What’s surprised me the most is my ability to do things I didn’t think I could- especially some of the technical aspects. I’ve also been surprised by both the people who have been excited about the site and have helped me or been involved and also those who have been more hands off. I have had a ton of help from different areas of my life (some of which I didn’t expect) and it’s been great!
Gaudy: Arts in Color promotes and features diverse artists of color who are working in different disciplines — dance, theater, film, etc. How does learning and blogging about artists in these distinct disciplines inform your own work as a theatrical performer?
SC: I think for me it often affirms some of my own experiences and gives me wisdom for the future as well. It also makes me aware of those who came before me and those who are in the community with me now. I love it. It’s extremely encouraging and I hope that’s what it does for the readers as well if not more!
Gaudy: When you were at Wellesley, you studied sociology as well as cinema. From a more sociological perspective, what have you observed about the social structures and behaviors in the New York theater world?
SC: From a sociological perspective one of the things that interests me the most is the racial demographics of the NY Theatre world (especially Broadway). Off Broadway (where people generally take more risks) I see a more diverse community, however, Broadway is structurally another story. Racialicious actually did a great article with an infographic focusing on the lack of diversity on Broadway reflected in Tony Award wins. The numbers are staggering. Wins for best director of a musical? 97% white. For a play? 88% white. Both of these categories lack in female representation as well. Among the best actor/actress categories the numbers don’t change much either. Audience demographics are available as well through the Broadway League’s annual studies and these are only slightly better. The average audience member is white (Seventy-eight percent of all tickets were purchased by Caucasian theatregoers), well educated, and quite affluent compared to the general population.
Behaviorally I have seen people struggle over figuring out how to make a change to a community that has structurally existed this way for quite some time, especially as performers. Where does the change begin? Is diversity needed among producers, casting directors, agents, creative teams? How do we begin making noticeable and effective steps towards changing Broadway to reflect its more diverse surroundings? I’d love to see a more colorful theatre community onstage, backstage, in the audience, and behind the table and Arts in Color is part of that!
Gaudy: More generally speaking, how did a liberal arts education prepare you (or not prepare you) for pursuing a performance career?
SC: I think it prepared me for the jobs I’d need in between performing! Haha. In all seriousness, it made me question and dig and stay versatile in my knowledge. This has often informed or complemented some of the skills necessary to be a performer- a sense of curiosity. The interactions I had and the internships I got from attending Wellesley also assisted me with how to conduct myself as a business person (as a performer you are your own business) and that is not always taught in performance degree programs.
I have to say that I do sometimes wish I’d had a more conservatory style training experience that would have given me some practical skills to prepare for Broadway. My liberal arts education couldn’t give me that (which is part of the reason I continued on to NYU) but the location of the school allowed me to perform in a city (Boston) with a great theatre scene. I learned a good deal from that and met wonderful people from places like Speakeasy, North Shore, and Wheelock who have helped me grow as a performer in a variety of ways.
Gaudy: The 2013 Tonys: Your thoughts?
SC: Ah! They were so entertaining! This was one of the first years in a little while that I was torn over who I thought might win. I love NPH (Neil Patrick Harris) as the host. I kept thinking-this should never change he’s hilarious. I laughed and cried during the opening number because it was so funny while striking a chord in all the music theatre nerds out there.
I watched in Times Square which I’d never done before. The energy was fun and the weather was perfect. They project the Tonys onto a huge screen and chairs are provided. It was a really great year for black performers with Patina Miller, Billy Porter, Courtney B Vance, and Cicely Tyson winning. However, it also made me reflect on the continued need for diversity on the Broadway stage. Allegiance (a show about Japanese internment w/some amazingly talented Asian performers and creatives) is planning a run in the next season and that excites me. I’m glad this story will be told, however, it also makes me hopeful for artists of color to be included in stories that are not race specific. That colorblind casting will truly start to exist and we’ll be able to see ourselves in something like Allegiance and Carousel at the same time without anyone blinking an eye. It was also a great year for women. Being a Wellesley alumna I couldn’t help but notice two big female wins in Diane Paulus (who is half Japanese) and Pam Mackinnon (best directors). The closing with Audra Mcdonald? Genius. I am a huge fan of hers and it looked like they were having so much fun. Plus it mixed pop culture with Broadway and NYC- what more could you ask for?
Gaudy: Whose career are you following with particular interest – who are the artists to watch?
SC: Hm I always follow Audra. She is a legend (5 Tonys), amazingly talented, and humble. I had the honor of meeting her during Porgy and Bess. Recently I have become a Leslie Odom, Jr., fan. I thought he was the best thing in the short run of Leap of Faith, he was also on Smash, and is now in a show at the Public called Venice. Lindsay Mendez who I loved in Godspell. She’s been working regularly and is now playing Elphaba in Wicked and her voice is ridiculous. I love the direction of Diane Paulus and Stafford Arima. Also a playwright I was introduced to named Harrison Rivers. I read his work and always want to be part of it (whether acting in it or promoting it somehow). I think he’s going to amazing places! The list could get longer haha, but I’ll stop here.
Our thanks to Shavanna!