What is a ‘Black Out’ performance?

What is a ‘Black Out’ performance?

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Theatre Royal Stratford East, an off-West End theatre in London, has upset conservatives after they learned one showing of the comedy play Tambo and Bones has been listed as a ‘Black Out’ performance.

Taking place on 5 July, the special performance is “arranged for Black audience members specifically”, and while “no one is excluded from attending”, non-Black individuals are asked to “consider attending another performance”.

And to be clear, there are 28 other performances they can go to.

So what exactly is a ‘Black Out’ performance?

First trialed on Broadway back in September 2019 for a production of Slave Play, the show’s playwright Jeremy O. Harris came up with the idea to create an environment “in which an all-Black-identifying audience can experience and discuss an event in the performing arts, film, athletic and cultural spaces – free from the white gaze”.

And it turned out to be pretty popular. A second ‘Black Out’ performance was scheduled for the final performance of Slave Play at the Golden Theatre in the US, before Harris brought the idea across the pond for his play Daddy, which played at London’s Almeida Theatre last year.

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Now, Tambo and Bones has decided to adopt the initiative, with director Matthew Xia saying: “Over the past few years, a number of playwrights and directors in the US and the UK have created private and safe spaces for Black theatregoers to experience productions that explore complex, nuanced race-related issues.

“I felt that with a play like Tambo and Bones which unpicks the complexity of Black performance in relation to the white gaze, it was imperative that we created such a space.”

Sounds like a positive and progressive step, yet one white TalkTV presenter – Russell Quirk – decided to take issue with the performance by reportedly buying all remaining front-row seats.

Thankfully, many more people have thrown their support behind the theatre and the creative team behind Tambo and Bones, and criticised The Telegraph’s coverage of the issue:

On Monday, Theatre Royal Stratford East issued a statement and said: “Black Out night is an initiative which started on Broadway and has been taken up by several London theatres, the spirit of which is congregation, celebration and healing.

Tambo and Bones, staged at Stratford East, is a bold new play, a satire that actively explores race and what it is to be Black.

“We have chosen to embrace this initiative for one performance, during the play’s month-long run, as a space for Black audiences to experience the play as a community.”

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