Whitney White says representation means survival

Award-winning director, actress and musician
Whitney White says representation means survival
Whitney White (Screenshot from rolling out video)

Obie Award-winning director, actress and musician Whitney White has a keen understanding of what her presence means in the world of theater. She is passionate about Black stories and works to amplify the voices of Black women in spaces where they are not heard. The Chicago native is currently directing The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington at the Steppenwolf Theatre. Rolling out spoke to White about her passions, the importance of representation, and why she took on her latest project.

What does it mean to be a good director?


I think being a good director just means how rigorous you can be. Are you giving it your best? How much are you questioning the story? How much can you push the players? How much can you give the work? I think good direction comes from your process because art is subjective.

What have been some of the challenges in navigating the theater world as a Black woman?


Thank you for making space for that. I find that people are still always so surprised. Unfortunately, they’re surprised not only that you’re there, not only that you’re in charge, but that you are good at what you do.

Talk about the importance of representation in these spaces.

Representation is survival. To be able to see yourself and see others. Operating in society gives you the audacity in a western culture to want to carve out your own path. I believe that, my mother raised me like that. Look for yourself in the world and put yourself out there in the world so others can see themselves. I think it’s key.

Why did you decide to direct The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington?

When you see it, you’ll know. It’s just so outrageously fantastic. The play is combining 1800 with 2020 now and in such an incredibly unapologetic way. It’s just kind of electric. It’s fun. It’s dark. It forces us to deal with a real truth in our shared American past and combines that.

What would you like for people to take away from this production?

A lot of what we learn about [history] has been sanitized. A lot of our own stories have been erased. I hope that the audience comes and just thinks a little deeper about the foundations of America and what it took for America to become America and that at any given point in time, you can always make a decision that will better affect people in the future. Are you brave enough to do it?

The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington is currently running at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago through Oct. 9, 2022.

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