(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. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)
TCG Online Conference Salon
Diversity and Inclusion Program Arc
Gender Parity in the American Theatre
JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, tell me about the work you do as a theatre artist or administrator.
SHAWN LACOUNT: I am the Artistic Director of Company One in Boston. Our mission is to change the face of Boston theatre by uniting the city’s diverse communities through innovative, socially provocative performance and the development of civically engaged artists.
JL: How do you identify in terms of race, culture, and gender? How has this identity influenced the work that you do?
SL: I guess I identify as a white Jewish guy who is Irish Catholic on his dad’s side with a French Canadian last name. I think I am more inclined to identify with my community who I see as a young, diverse, urban bunch who are creatively and collaboratively looking to change the world…
JL: How has this identity impacted your ability to work in the American Theatre? Have certain opportunities been made available to you owing to “who” you are? Have certain doors been closed to you?
SL: There seems to be no lack of white male Artistic Directors in the American theater. I have to imagine there are plenty of doors and conversations that I have access to that others may not. As Company One grows and becomes more recognized, I find myself being invited to join committees and boards that notably lack diversity, so that is kind of weird. I like being an ambassador for the kind of work we do, but my involvement does not inherently promote institutional diversity or cross cultural collaboration. On the other hand, I have found myself as the only Caucasian fellow in the room as part of other committees and that is also kind of weird. I am sure there are plenty of important doors that are closed to me because of what I look like. It is complicated and it should be.
JL: Where do you feel we are in terms of gender and race in larger landscape of the American Theatre?
SL:I feel American theater is behind in many areas, which explains the average audience demographics and general disinterest in the theater. I am confident that this will change, though no doubt too slowly to be proud of. I think it comes down to transparency. If we as an industry want progress as it relates to gender and race, we have the capacity to do that. If we don’t, we as individual theaters, should just say that. It would make the whole conversation simpler. This question reminds me that the whole concept of diversity in American theater needs to be about process. We are either helping the cause or hurting it.
JL: How do you feel your community has addressed the issues of race and gender parity? How has this particular issue impacted you and your ability to practice your craft?
SL: It depends how I define “my community.” I think that the Boston theater saw one of it’s most racially diverse seasons last year. Perhaps bucking the trend, Boston’s most notable playwrights are all women. That said, our demographics and theater community has nothing to be proud of when it comes to race and gender. This is one major area of focus at Company One. We decided a while back that if we showed the rest of the theater community that it was possible to represent many cultures and faces on stage while producing award winning work, then they too could do that. We are seeing the fruit that labor. Company One is proud to be a ‘stepping-stone’ organization in Boston, specifically for artists of color and female playwrights. Artists who we first work with at Company One often find their way to larger stages in Boston and beyond. It was not a surprise that Boston’s most diverse season in years was full of artists who began their careers with Company One.
JL: Do we need gender based theaters? What is gained by having stories of a certain community told by artists of that community? What is lost?
SL: Sure! We need more theaters who have socially motivated missions. I find theater the most dynamic and exciting when it is a tool for something else. If a group of people, any people, think that by creating performance together they are affecting great change, then yes we need more of that. This also provides empowerment and opportunity. It is not an excuse, however, for other theaters to be less dedicated to race and gender equality- especially mid size and larger regional theaters.
JL: What can theatres do to better serve a larger and more inclusive community?
SL: Theaters should produce more plays by writers concerned with gender and racial diversity. This is a hallmark of the indie theater movement. This will guarantee more diversity on stage, more equality in the social and political ideas within the plays being produced and will represent a broader spectrum of playwrights and dramatic voices. There are great living American writers who write about a colorful and complicated world. It feels a lot like more like the world I live in. No surprise, this makes for great theater!
Shawn LaCount (Artistic Director): Shawn is a proud co-founder of Company One and is excited about his upcoming directing projects at C1: Kirsten Greenidge’s SPLENDOR and Annie Baker’s THE FLICK. Recent directorial credits include the Boston premieres of BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO by Rajiv Joseph; THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY by Kristoffer Diaz (Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Director and Outstanding Production); Annie Baker’s THE ALIENS (Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Director and Outstanding Production), the world premiere of GRIMM (IRNE Award nominee for Best New Play), the Boston premiere of THE OVERWHELMING by JT Rogers (Elliot Norton Award nominee for Outstanding Drama, Fringe); the Boston premiere of Haruki Murakami’s AFTER THE QUAKE (Elliot Norton Award nominee for Outstanding Drama, Fringe); Stephen Sondheim’s ASSASSINS (IRNE nomination for Best Director and Best Musical); the Boston premiere of Noah Haidle’s MR. MARMALADE (Elliot Norton Award nominee for Outstanding Director/Outstanding Drama); the Boston premiere of AFTER ASHLEY by Gina Gionfriddo; and Anthony Burgess’ A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (featuring original music by the Dresden Dolls). Local academic directing credits include Adam Rapp’s PARAFFIN and NURSING at Emerson Stage. Shawn holds an MA Ed. in theatre Education from Clark University and an M.F.A. in Directing from The University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has taught at the Boston Arts Academy, Huntington Theatre Company, Tufts University, Stage One and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
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. jacquelinelawton.com