I hope everyone had a happy Labor Day weekend, and took a moment amongst the barbecues and beach days to reflect on the ongoing importance of the labor movement. Watching Lily Ledbetter’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, I was struck by her acknowledgement that when there is inequality in the workplace, “what we lose can’t just be measured in dollars.”
The urgency of achieving a truly equal, inclusive theatre field—across all the intersections of difference, from gender to race, culture to class—is central to the work of TCG. Diversity is one of TCG’s core values, a key focus in our strategic plan and the main theme of our 2012 Fall Forum on Governance: Leading the Charge. It is also why I’m compelled to share some troubling news we received late last week. Penumbra Theatre Company, one of the country’s oldest and most respected African-American theatre companies, announced that they must suspend their programming and lay off staff due to extreme financial hardship.
While many of our theatres face financial challenges, culturally-specific theatres like Penumbra face unique challenges while making unique—and essential—contributions to the sustainability of our field. They are generators of new work, new awareness, new audiences, as well as jobs and opportunities for artists. I spoke today with actor Austene Van, who has been “a company member for 1,007 years.” With the limited number of opportunities available for African-American women, Van didn’t know where else she could have received the sustained support she needed to grow as an actor, director and choreographer.
She added, “I can’t imagine it not being here. It’s more than just a theatre to a lot of people. It’s a national legacy.” Members of Penumbra’s acting company are volunteering time and mounting a variety of fundraising efforts, and if you’re interested and able, you may contribute on their website. It concerns us deeply to see another African-American theatre company—especially one that has made such major contributions to our field—suspend their programming.
They believe that by next spring, productions will resume, and I have confidence that with some more well-deserved support, Penumbra will be all the way back by next Labor Day. Until then, I know the Twin Cities theatre community would join me in repeating Ledbetter’s phrase, “what we lose can’t just be measured in dollars.”