One of the most harmful practices in the arts community is gatekeeping. Gatekeeping is defined as, “the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something.” On the surface this is a very straightforward idea. We’ve all heard of gatekeepers at fancy gated communities, government buildings, or other areas that seem to need high security. Gatekeepers exist to keep a community safe and protected from outside harms. An interesting question though, what about when the thing that gatekeepers are trying to “protect” isn’t a place?
Whatever your role may be in the arts, you have a right to be here. Have you ever been told, “Your favorite musical is Wicked? You’re not a real musical theatre fan!” or “You like Broadway? Name one theater on Broadway…that’s what I thought.” Why do some people think they have the authority to decide what deems you a “true fan?” I have been working in the theatre industry for three and half years now and before that I performed in middle and high school productions for seven years. Do you want to know what one of my favorite musicals is? Wicked. Do you what to know which musicals I don’t know a lot about or personally care for? Classic Golden Age Musicals. Am I uncultured? Did I just out myself as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing because they don’t know enough about a certain area of theatre to be a legitimate theatre worker? No, absolutely not. If you answered yes to any of those questions then you just outed yourself as a gatekeeper of the arts, in which case you should probably do some self-reflection and think about why you answered yes.
Whether you have been in the arts for years or are brand new, everyone has their own interests. I simply enjoy contemporary shows more than classic shows. I love Kinky Boots over Phantom of the Opera and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time over ANYTHING Tennessee Williams. I’ve taken theatre history classes, I know why different shows or eras are important and why, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy EVERY “famous” show. Let people have their favorites. Let people participate in the productions they want to. Let people create their art. Don’t tell them that their choices aren’t ________ enough. Everyone makes the perfect choices for themselves.