The Heights

Updated: May 23, 2016

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Course examines diversity in theater from the 1950s onward

Diversity in the arts is a topic that has been discussed for generations, but the 2016 Academy Awards brought the conversation center stage. For the second year in a row, only white artists were recognized in the top four categories leading to a backlash, and opening the floodgates to conversations about diversity in the arts.

Foothill’s Multicultural Theater Arts in Modern America (THTR 8) tackles this very subject with an examination of the culture of minorities in theater from the 1950s onward. The lecture class is open to all students – not just those pursuing a career in the arts – and fulfills two general education credits, perfect for those students wishing to round out their spring semester.

Instructor Kathleen Norrington created the class 10 years ago when she felt the political and social climates were headed in the right direction. Recent events including Ferguson, presidential candidates, and the Oscars demonstrated that the discussion needed to continue. Theater has been at the forefront of social change since the 1950s and 1960s when civil rights movements opened the door to many disenfranchised groups. From it came the rise of many theater groups and artists comprised of people of color who found their voice and telling their stories.

"Everyone goes to the theater thinking that it will be fun. Plays aren't just entertainment. They serve different functions for us as human beings. Watching a play gives us a sense of empathy that other forms of art don't allows us. To be in a room with other people and grappling with these issues help you understand it in a deeper way," says Norrington.

In addition to reading and discussing plays, the class also focuses on viewing select performances, like those of Culture Clash, a Latino-based comedy trio, and Anna Deavere Smith's one-woman play Twilight: Los Angeles about the Rodney King riots. Also included in the syllabus is a discussion of Hamilton, the sold-out and groundbreaking musical that's taken over Broadway, featuring a diverse cast of actors playing our white founding fathers. The result? Near-universal acclaim that's continuing the conversation on color-blind casting.

THTR 8 is offered this spring online. For registration instructions, visit

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