Accountability: How to Avoid Pandering and Cliches

by Maile Holck

in Diversity & Inclusion,National Conference

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(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas. This post was originally shared on Jacqueline’s blog, and we’re re-purposing it here as a part of the Conference conversation.)

TCG’s 2012 Young Leader of Color, Maile Holck, responds to Drew Barker’s question on diversity and inclusion.

“How do institutions and artists negotiate between sincere attempts at ‘bridge-building’ and creating productive ‘multicultural’ explorations without falling into the potential traps of audience pandering or cliché?”

Accountability: How to Avoid Pandering and Cliches

What I have to say is probably going to come across very simplistic and maybe even simple minded, but here goes…I think back to what Ralph B. Peña (founding member/current artistic director of Ma-Yi Theater Company) said during the sustainability plenary session in Boston: “We have to get the leaders (of theatre institutions) to acknowledge their own biases.” Absolutely. I also believe we have to stop thinking of them as large institutions and start looking at and talking directly to the individuals who run them. By the same token, those individual leaders must stop perceiving themselves as large institutions and begin behaving as individual artists who want to create great theatre…because at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want?We can holler til the cows come home, but if the individual leaders of those institutions cannot – or refuse to – self reflect and recognize their own biases, then we might as well be talking to a brick wall. An endeavor such as this must be a two way street.

If the attempts are truly sincere - and there are equal amounts of give, take, interest, curiosity and real listening, then while we may not always succeed, I would bet that, more often than not, honest, productive and ”multicultural” explorations and theatre experiences will be the result.

I think what it boils down to is people (leaders of theatre institutions as well as individual artists…but mostly those leaders) need to hold themselves accountable. People need to also have a genuine interest and curiosity in “multicultural” explorations in order for any of it to be a real bridge building experience. They can’t do it just because it’s what they think they’re supposed to do…you know? That’s when the pandering and cliches come in.

-Written by Maile Holck

  • Jacqueline Lawton

    How can artists and artistic leaders come together in the service of their communities?

    In 2010, I attended Theater J’s “Backstage at the Lincoln” a reading series at the historic Lincoln Theatre, which featured plays that addressed Black and Jewish relations. After the reading, I asked Associate Artistic Director, Shirley Serotsky what had inspired this reading series and learned of Theater J’s longstanding interest in this particular subject. I’d been attending plays at Theater J since moving to D.C. in 2006, and had even participated on several panel discussions, but I didn’t know they wanted to examine these issues on stage. Later that night, I did some research and came up with a play proposal. When Theater J launched the Locally Grown Festival in 2011, I sent them what I had come up with that night: The Hampton Years, a play that explores the relationships between African-American artists, John Biggers and Samella Lewis and their professor Austrian Jewish refugee painter and educator, Viktor Lowenfeld.

    Theater J is a company that defies cliches and does not pander to its audiences. It’s been wonderful working with them.

    I’m excited to hear about your successful models and/or
    new ideas for strategies.