TCG Diversity and Inclusion Arc Day 3

by Jacqueline E. Lawton

in Diversity & Inclusion,National Conference

Post image for TCG Diversity and Inclusion Arc Day 3

(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. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog.)

Day Three of the conference is one that I’ll never forget. It was a hard day. I was taken to a deep, raw and honest place. I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready for how powerful and emotionally charged it turned out to be. At the same time, I should have seen it coming. It was not only inevitable, it was necessary for deep growth and lasting change to take place.

I spent the morning processing my thoughts and typing my notes from the day before. I finished with moments to spare, but ended up missing the morning Diversity and Inclusion Learning Session and purely for selfish reasons. The day before, I learned from my dear friend, Jojo Ruf (General Manager, National New Play Network) that there was a Starbucks in her hotel. This was music to my ears, because I’d been craving a soy chai latte all week. Now, my hotel had a Peet’s Coffee, which it turns out Jojo happens to prefer over Starbucks. So, we made arrangement to buy each other’s caffeinated beverage of choice and in doing so, I was able to attend an Artistic Innovation Learning Session. But this was great; after all, I am a playwright!

Living the Margo Jones Legacy: Breaking the Habit of New Play Development

The speakers were Anne Cattaneo (Dramaturg and Director, Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab), Anthony Clarvoe (Playwright, Edgerton Foundation), Ben Krywosz (Artistic Director, Nautilus Music-Theater), Jason Loewith (Artistic Director, Olney Theatre Center), Lisa Adler (Co-Artistic/Producing Director, Horizon Theatre Company) and Mara Isaacs (Producing Director/Founder, McCarter Theatre Center/Octopus Theatricals).

The focus of the conversation was to examine ways in which the new play sector could continue to grow and support playwrights:

  • It was wonderful to hear a continued investment in the idea of focusing attention on the second and third productions of a new play. This was especially interesting as I’m in the midst of a world premiere and am ready to do rewrites in preparation for that next production.
  • As with the conversations being had along the Diversity and Inclusion Arc, the idea of mentorship was raised. There was agreement about the effectiveness of mentorship as it related to introductions and connections, but the idea that an established playwright could benefit a young playwright artistically was contested. I was so surprised by this. I actually think artistic guidance is the most essential part of the mentorship relationship. Young playwrights need someone to champion their voice, guide them along the creative process and encourage them to honor their truth. Even if mentor and mentee differ in their approaches, they are of great service to one another this way.
  • National New Play Network’s New Play Exchange was discussed. I heard about it in great length this past April at NNPN’s 15th Anniversary Celebration in Philly. Here’s the description from the website: “Combining crowd-sourced recommendations, social media functions and a script database, the New Play Exchange will revolutionize the way playwrights and theaters connect in the nonprofit arena.” The ultimate goal is to make a wider range of plays accessible to theatres than ever before. That’s a good thing. I really hope it works.

What I appreciated most about this session was the discussion around the trajectory of some of our more established playwright’s careers. It never hurts to be reminded that Arthur Miller, Christopher Durang, Sam Shepard and Tennessee Williams had to hone and shape their creative voices and artistic visions. These giants of the American Theatre grew into the playwrights they have become. It was a process that took time, faith and risk … three things the American Theatre needs to reinvest its energy and passion in.

I’m glad to have had the opportunity to sit in on this conversation and meditate on my craft. In truth, I think it contributed to what made being a part of the next session so relevant, passionate and urgent.

Diversity and Inclusion Homeroom, Session #3: Smashing the Glass Ceiling

This session moderated by Carmen Morgan (Director, Leadership Development in Interethnic Relations) with panelists Jennifer Bielstein (Managing Director, Actors Theatre of Louisville; Vice President and Member of Diversity Task Force, LORT) and Teresa Eyring (Executive Director, TCG).

Together, Teresa and Jennifer outlined the ways in which LORT and TCG were hoping to work together to build bridges and work more efficiently and intently towards a more Diverse and Inclusive American Theatre.

LORT: Jennifer Bielstein

LORT, as a management association, comprised a task force of managers from the pool of current LORT managers, to engage more deeply in its commitment to diversity and inclusion. The task force interviewed almost 20 people of color and recruiters in the field from LORT and outside – and the input from those interviews is what has shaped their process and thinking:

  • Shift Gender and Ethnic diversity to initial focus and core value.
  • Establish more professional development, on-the-job training and mentorship programs
  • Improve recruitment efforts so that more artists and administrators of color are in the room for consideration of executive level positions. Perhaps every LORT Theatre should implement the Rooney Rule, which the National Football League (NFL) implemented in 2003 to address issues of diversity. However, after ten years, the rule seems to not be working and is facing a great deal of scrutiny. Click here and here to learn more.
  • Grow the industry in such a way that allows for more competitive salaries and room for lateral growth.
  • Develop more allies for Gender and Ethnic diversity.
  • Bring trustees and board members around to the idea of working with women and people of color in executive decisions.
  • Utilize external resources such as consultants to strengthen endeavors in all of these areas.

Jennifer ended her presentation with a great question and one that was asked across the conference: once you’ve set this as your goal, how do you measure success? What does it look like?

TCG – Teresa Eyring

For the past 52 years, TCG has had a long history and commitment to diversity that began in the early stages of the organization’s development. In fact, earlier movements are echoed in the current energy of growing the organization; specifically in terms of staff, board, grant making and publications. But what are the current challenges?

Teresa said, “We have the opportunity to model a new world, rather than replicating existing weaknesses in society—such as institutional racism.” TCG wants to help facilitate change over time:

Diversity and Inclusion Six Point Plan

  • Establish a baseline of information about what the state of the field is now, so that we can access shared data and set new goals.
  • Develop a Literature Review of the great thinking that has been done. When she said this, several YLC/New Gen cohorts felt this was work we could do.
  • Build on the momentum of the Diversity and Inclusion Institute, which serves to help bring awareness, acknowledgment and accountability.
  • Grow the Young Leaders of Color Program to a year-long program. There will be more engagement in the process and include a professional development component.
  • Support culturally specific theatres – how to grow and sustain our culturally specific theatres? What is the impact of growing diversity in the larger  institutions, and how does that impact our smaller theatres?
  • A Legacy Project to capture stories and learning of pioneers.

Teresa and Jennifer then wanted to hear thoughts and questions from all of us. Carmen brilliantly and respectfully facilitated this conversation.

These are the major issues that were raised:

  • Currently, LORT’s Diversity Task Force, which is made up of Managing Directors, does not have a single person of color on it. This isn’t to say that men and women serving aren’t allies, but this is a problem. It’s exciting to report that since this blog post was originally written, Joseph Haj (Producing Artistic Director, PlayMakers Repertory Theatre) and Timothy Bond (Producing Artistic Director Syracuse Stage and SU Drama) have been added to the Diversity Task Force, partially addressing this concern.
  • The conversation around cultural specific theatres versus LORT theatres doesn’t need to be one about competition. Right now, the conversation around diversity and inclusion is being spoken about in terms of YOU or ME, instead of YOU and ME. This limits the possibilities for everyone, most especially the audiences who are meant to be served.
  • The conversation around diversity of artists and artistic staff and that of executive staff and board members is a different conversation. This harkens back to the power pyramid. Who controls the budget and makes the decisions about hiring and season programming?
  • It’s problematic when diversity programs are tied to money, because when the money is gone, the programs disappear. Well, it disappears if the ideology of the organization hasn’t shifted. Meaning that efforts towards a more diverse and inclusive theatre community have to become a core value whether or not you have money to support your efforts. But the change has to happen at the leadership level.
  • Diversity need to move beyond gender and race/ethnicity to include ability, sexual orientation, etc.
  • There is a fear that if a person of color becomes artistic director, they will change or take over the agenda of the theatre. Both Timothy Douglas (in “The Benefits of Slavery”) and Joseph Haj (Interview with Joseph Haj) speak eloquently on these issues on Howlround.

In the midst of all of this, it hit me why these same conversations were being had over and over again and why no real change has occurred…just as there is the belief that audiences won’t come out to see plays written by or about people of color, there is a core belief that people of color are not qualified for executive level management or artistic positions. This is why people of color are constantly being told that we need training, professional development and special programs. I couldn’t take it. I stood up and shared my thoughts. I shared them through tears, deep sorrow and pain, and I can’t thank TCG enough for creating such a safe space for this place of raw truth to be shared.

After I sat down, Carmen then asked us all to take a moment to reflect on what had just been shared. After which, two more young leaders of color shared their thoughts and experiences, which mirrored my own. They had gone through and successfully completed special fellowships, training programs and professional development for artists and administrators of color, but still professional opportunities were not being made available to them.

Here’s the thing: these programs are essential. I mean, had Blake Robison (former Artistic Director of Round House Theatre/current Artistic Director of Cincinnati Playhouse), not nominated me as a TCG Young Leader of Color last year, I would never have been able to attend the TCG Conference last year. More than paying for housing, transportation, and the conference fees, the YLC program made me visible and gave me a sense of empowerment. Even though there was a loss of funding, TCG made it possible for many of us to attend the conference this year.

As I said, this was a powerful day. I’m not the same for it and I’m grateful to everyone in that room and everyone who participated in the Diversity and Inclusion Arc for giving so much of themselves and for sharing so honestly where they are in their journeys. None of this work is easy, but that’s what makes it so necessary. I’m curious to hear from others who took part in this session or any of the sessions. Your experiences and perspective are essential.

Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena.