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For Actors Theatre's New Artistic Director Robert Fleming, Representation Matters

Justin Philalack

On Monday, Actors Theatre of Louisville announced it had hired Robert Barry Fleming as the company’s new artistic director.

Fleming, a Kentucky native, will be the first non-white artistic director at the company; he says that growing up, he actively looked for arts leaders with whom he could identify.

“I think in a system doesn’t always have a representation in all walks and institutions, you always seek out what is available to you,” Fleming said.

He continued: “I came into the theater because of Dr. Winona Fletcher, who was a professor at Kentucky State University. She put me in her production of ‘A Raisin in the Sun,’ and for many years, she would probably be the first image of just even imaging myself in a position like this.”

Across, the country, there’s increased diversity on professional stages. According to a new study by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, this is due, in part, to recent blockbuster productions that are either about — or make a point of hiring — people of color. Shows like “Hamilton,” “On Your Feet!” and “The Color Purple.”

But industry numbers show that leading roles off-stage aren’t nearly as diverse.

As of 2017, there were onlyfour people of color leading companies that are part of the League of Resident Theatres — this is a large professional theater association of which Actors Theatre is a member.

And another Louisville arts leader says that he’s pleased to see things changing.

Idris Goodwin is the first person of color to hold the role of Stage One Family Theater’s producing artistic director. Hestarted work there in August.

“Representation matters — at the end of the day, that’s it,” Goodwin said. “The more of us that are in fields that we haven’t historically been prevalent particularly in leadership positions, inevitably someone is going to look up and be like ‘That could be me, look what I could do.’”

Goodwin said he feels like things in Louisville are shifting — especially with Fleming starting his position at Actors in July.

As for Fleming, he’s ready to engage with black youth in the community who need someone to look to in the arts.

“You recognize that it’s not fully about you personally, because you become something of a symbol in that way, much in the way that those parties became for me,” Fleming said. “But I certainly appreciate all the diligent work that they did to make something possible like this for me.”

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