#D&I Institute Field Report: Central Square Theater

by Catherine Carr Kelly and Megan Sandberg-Zakian

in Diversity & Inclusion

Post image for #D&I Institute Field Report: Central Square Theater

(As part of TCG’s Diversity & Inclusion Institute, our online curator Jacqueline E. Lawton is interviewing our cohort of participating theatres about their discoveries, challenges and success stories along the way. Photo by Sean Harris, Maverick Sean. Pictured: Catherine Carr Kelly and Megan Sandberg-Zakian at the 2013 Fall Forum on Governance: Investing in Vitality.)

JACQUELINE LAWTON: Why is it important for your organization to take part in the Diversity and Inclusion Institute?

Catherine Carr Kelly and Megan Sandberg-Zakian, CENTRAL SQUARE THEATER: Central Square Theater is located in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Cambridge. It is home to immigrants from Cape Verde, Haiti, Africa, Southeast Asia and many other cultures. The Square also has the largest concentration of “working poor” (family households that are at or below the poverty line). Central Square Theater was created with the vision of “Artists and Audiences Creating Theater Vital to our Communities.”

Over the past five seasons since we moved into Central Square, we’ve explored various facets of what this broad and ambitious vision might mean. Who are our communities? What would it mean to create “vital” theater? How do the answers to those questions affect our programming, staffing, and processes? We’ve always prioritized the building of strong collaborative partnerships, as well as seeking to gather viewpoints, feedback and advice from our community, in order to program plays, educational work, and auxiliary programming that speaks to them. At this point in our audience development work, it is clear that we need to use our experience and strength in creating partnerships and collaborations to develop significant, rich, and lasting relationships in communities of color. Additionally, it is also clear that organizationally, we need to fully understand our commitment to diversity and inclusion and what that means in terms of our own staffing and board development.

JL: What have you learned so far in your process?

CST: We have learned a number of things so far, including:

  • True D&I work takes constant attention and a vision for long term outcomes
  • Everyone in the organization must understand the privilege and power that they hold, in order to fully understand how to become a more diverse organization.
  • We must explore how we can further our work towards becoming a “Welcoming Organization” by understanding cultural differences and how these can be effected throughout the organization—from the choices that we make in programming all the way down to our Front of House protocols and hospitality.
  • Diversity and Inclusion means many things to different people; it is critical that we create a definition for CST that can be embraced all the way through the organization and result in an action plan that is measurable and accountable.

JL: What are some of the challenges you have faced when doing this work?

CST: The time investment required has been challenging. We are a 1.9M organization that is constantly pushing the boundaries of our capacity with our own programming. The additional time and thoughtfulness required to understand our D&I challenges has been a strain. At the same time, we hear Carmen loud and clear when she says that D&I work cannot be considered one more thing to be done in a busy day, but rather a fundamental part of every day work. We know that for this work to be successful, it cannot be perceived as a burden or additional responsibility – but as we haven’t yet found our way in to this holistic approach, so right now we are still feeling the strain and acknowledging it.

JL: What surprised you about where your organization is in the process?

CST:  I am surprised that, as an organization that has been considering audience diversity and programming plays that speak to a broad range of cultures for many years, we still have so much to learn about how we can fully weave a practice and culture of diversity and inclusion throughout our organization. I am also surprised by the “unconscious bias” that exists in our organization and how certain policies and work protocols have, unknowingly, contributed to maintain a divide between audience curation/outreach and audience development.

JL: What’s at stake for your community, both your internal (staff, board, artists) and external (audience) stake-holders, if you aren’t able to implement an action plan for Diversity and Inclusion?

CST: As mentioned above, our vision of “Artists and Audiences Creating Theater Vital to our Communities” cannot be realized if we are not reaching members of our current and future audiences. In a world that is rapidly diversifying, we want to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead for more creative innovation, deeper conversations and new entryways into our work with audiences and artists and a new understanding of how the critical issues of our time affect a broad swath of our stakeholders.

Catherine Carr Kelly was managing director of Underground Railway Theater for eleven years and served as campaign manager for the Central Square Theater Capital Campaign, two years prior to becoming the CST executive director. Ms. Carr Kelly also served as the building construction project manager for the new Theater. As the founding managing director of the Women on Top Theater Festival of New Works, running from 2000 to 2007, she oversaw the creation of scores of world premieres and seven commissioned plays. She is a founding director of the award-winning I Was There Project, an interdisciplinary, arts-based, oral history residency for elementary schools created in partnership with the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities at Brown University. Ms. Carr Kelly serves on the board of the Central Square Business Association, The Providence Children’s Film Festival and is a co-director of the Central Square Cultural District Committee. Ms. Carr Kelly has consulted for theaters and statewide arts councils in public relations, small business management, and marketing. She speaks often on the power of collaboration for non-profits at conferences and public forums. Ms. Carr Kelly has stage managed, assistant directed, and produced original theater in Prague, Czech Republic.

MSZ_photoMegan Sandberg-Zakian has spent the past two seasons at Central Square Theater (CST) in Cambridge, MA, as a recipient of TCG’s Future Leaders grant, collaborating on a constellation of development and production projects engaging artists, audiences, and local organizations. Most recently, Megan co-developed and directed a “docu-play” about Occupy Boston, No Room For Wishing, which was co-produced by CST, Company One and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, and is currently touring. Other recent directing projects include co-developing The Cabaret Series at CST, co-directing the Boston premiere of Tarell McCraney’s The Brother Sister Plays at Company One (IRNE Award, Best Production; IRNE nominee, Best Director; Elliot Norton nominee, Best Production), Lydia Diamond’s Harriet Jacobs at Underground Railway Theater (Elliot Norton nominee, Best New Play; IRNE nominee, Best Ensemble, Best Actress) and the Rhode Island premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Perishable Theatre/Trinity Repertory Company (Motif Awards, Best Production, Best Set Design, Best Actor). Megan has served as Associate Artistic Director of the Providence Black Repertory Company (RI) and The 52nd Street Project (NYC). Megan is a graduate of Brown University and holds an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College. www.megansz.com, www.cabaretseries.com, www.noroomforwishing.com

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