(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.
SUMMER L. WILLIAMS: I am a co-founder of Company One, a not-for-profit theatre company in Boston and theatre director.
JL: How do you identify in terms of race, culture, and gender? How has this identity influenced the work that you do?
SLW: A Black Woman from South Jersey (that is definitely a specific culture, HA!) I certainly feel like a rarity in the field, particularly in Boston, and I think I’m now at the crossroads of how that will influence my career as I look to direct more at other larger, regional theaters.
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?
SLW: So far I’ve been very fortunate in terms of my work—I am blessed to choose what I want to do and have directed amazing plays that have predominantly been written by African-American playwrights. This is of my choosing, my preference. As I grow in my career I wonder if I’ll primarily be asked to direct shows written by African-American playwrights and if that will ultimately limit my opportunities given the frequency of African-American playwrights who are getting produced at larger, regional theaters and how many African-American directors are employed regularly. Will I be offered anything more? I hope so but the current climate doesn’t seem to indicate that.
JL: Where do you feel we are in terms of gender and race in larger landscape of the American Theatre?
SLW: Attention is certainly being paid but I feel that we need more focus on action, a willingness to try a variety of initiatives and financial support for those initiatives. I have a sense of how the challenges around race and gender are being approached regarding performance and production/design opportunities but how those issues are being addressed institutionally and by whom needs a higher profile.
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?
SLW: Boston is certainly looking to become a progressive leader in the conversation. Stage Source, our regional TCG, has hosted conversations around diversity, inclusion and gender parity and published a report with the goal of creating solutions. More theaters are programming with an eye on equity—it’s not enough, but it’s a start. There also seems to be slightly more of a funding focus on theaters tackling these issues but unfortunately those funds are reserved for institutions of a certain size and therefore not necessarily the theaters that have made it their mission.
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?
SLW: While I definitely think culturally-specific and gender-specific work is a vital piece of the whole, we must understand that American Theatre is weakened if divided across the lines of race and gender. We are then left with an American Theatre that is hierarchical and representative of the “mainstream, dominant culture,” the “white, male default” and that is exactly the paradigm we are trying to alleviate with this conversation.
JL: What can theatres do to better serve a larger and more inclusive community?
SLW: Theatres should program widely. Open their doors and be transparent about how they serve. They should work to make sure their board and staff exemplify their desire to serve the people. Theatres need to be honest about who they serve now, who they want to serve and what sort of commitment they are going to make to getting there. Larger theatres can act boldly and share resources with smaller theatres that are doing the work so that new models can be developed and formalized. Company One is always working to do more and do better—how amazing would it be if we all stopped talking and started doing?
Summer L. Williams (Director of Public Relations): Ms. Williams has been with Company One since its inception in 1998. An active member of the Board of Directors, Summer is a producer, director and educator for Company One. She is excited to begin work on Jackie Sibblies Drury’s WE ARE PROUD TO PRESENT A PRESENTATION ABOUT THE HERERO OF NAMBIA, FORMERLY KNOWN AS SOUTH WEST AFRICA FROM THE GERMAN SUDWESTAFRIKA BETWEEN THE YEARS 1884 AND 1915. Her most recent directing credits include the New England Premiere of Idris Goodwin’s HOW WE GOT ON and Lynn Nottage’s BY THE WAY…MEET VERA STARK at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston. Regional credits: THE BROTHERS SIZE and MARCUS; OR THE SECRET OF SWEET as part of the THE BROTHER/SISTER PLAYS (2012 Elliot Norton Award nominated for Outstanding Production and winner of the 2012 IRNE Award for Best Play),NEIGHBORS, GRIMM, THE GOOD NEGRO, VOYEURS DE VENUS (Winner of 2009 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Director), THE BLUEST EYE (IRNE and Elliot Norton Award nominated), THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT, SPELL #7 (IRNE nominated), JESUS HOPPED THE A TRAIN (2004 Elliot Norton Award for Best Fringe Production) TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES 1992 (IRNE nominated). Ms. Williams has also directed for the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Clark University, Brandeis University, The Theatre Offensive and Huntington Theatre Company. She is a teacher of drama and director at Brookline High School and holds a B.A. in Theatre, as well as a MA Ed. in Theatre and Urban Education. Ms. Williams serves as a member of the Board of Directors of both Stage Source and The Coolidge Corner Theatre.
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