(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton. 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.)
Diversity & Inclusion blog salon: The Role of Allies
Context: According to Reverend Dr. Andrea Ayvazian (Senior Pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church), an ally is a member of a dominant group in our society who works to dismantle any form of oppression from which she or he receives the benefit. Allied behavior means taking personal responsibility for the changes we know are needed in our society, and so often ignore or leave to others to deal with. Allied behavior is intentional, overt, consistent activity that challenges prevailing patterns of oppression, makes privileges that are so often invisible visible, and facilitates the empowerment of persons targeted by oppression.
JACQUELINE LAWTON: In our work as allies, we must begin by addressing our own privilege and prejudice. Where are you in this process? What are some areas where you struggle?
JULIE FELISE DUBINER: Well. I know that on one side of the coin I have incredible privilege based on my education, being white, being able to work in not-for-profit. However, I’m also female, a parent, Jewish, broke, and short. I hope that where I am and where I am going in my personal reckoning is that I have a privileged view, but can see many sides. And I can certainly listen to many sides. And we must all listen better.
JL: In our work as allies, it is necessary to take a stand when groups are targeted with unjust treatment. As a theatre artist, can you share an experience where you stood in support and solidarity with someone who was unfairly blamed, targeted, ignored or left without resources? Or can you talk about when someone stood in support or solidarity of you?
JFD: As with many, I worry I haven’t done enough. I am very good at getting in the scrum, and I am not afraid to express my opinions. As a dramaturg, I have rejected plays I found offensive and told writers why, and I have certainly called out sexism and racism in conversations with play selection committees, audience talk-backs, and rehearsals – often to the detriment of my standing in the theaters where I’ve worked. I am also very proud of standing up for my unpaid interns in a previous job. That came at a price.
JL: In our work as allies, it’s important that we support theatre artists and organizations that aren’t at the center of mainstream culture. In what ways have you done or encouraged others to do this?
JFD: I have tried so hard throughout my career to promote artists and stories that need to be heard. Artists – I have cried for you. Publicly. And I will always use whatever power I have in the world and at my institution to toss plenty of encouragement and promotion when I have the platform. And with social media – you kinda always have the platform.
JL: In our work as allies, it’s import that we find and create opportunities to promote the leadership of people in groups that traditionally don’t take leadership positions. Can you share an experience where you were able to do this or where this was done for you?
JFD: I can’t really. At OSF, the staff and leadership are diverse and committed to diversity and inclusion as core principles, but I don’t think I can claim any great victories for myself or by me for others.
JL: Knowing that the work of allies is a difficult, complex, and necessary, what resources have you found useful in your work? Who are your role models?
JFD: I’ll rant on Twitter or encourage the Early Career Dramaturgs on Facebook, but I am not sure I’m not talking to myself or people just like me much of the time. The question of role models is a hard one for me. There are many people I admire, but no one whose path I could or would emulate. We all stand on the shoulders of giants who challenged the exclusionary status quo in the regional, commercial, indie, and university theaters. But I think we have to jump higher than those shoulders. Now.
JL: What practical action steps would you recommend to others interested in serving as Allies for Diversity and Inclusion in the American Theatre?
JFD: Speak up. Listen well.
Julie Felise Dubiner is the Associate Director of American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. From 2004-2010, Julie was the Resident Dramaturg at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Prior to Louisville, she was in Philadelphia as Project Manager of The Rosenbach Company and Dramaturg at the Prince Music Theater. Before that, in Chicago she freelanced for Defiant, blue star, Steppenwolf and others. Julie holds degrees from Tufts and Columbia and has taught at University of Evansville, Walden Theatre, University of the Arts, the Philadelphia public schools and Chicago Dramatists. Julie has been a guest dramaturg at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference, the New Harmony Project, the Kennedy Center/KCACTF, and elsewhere. She is a co-editor of a couple of volumes of Humana Festival anthologies and a co-author of The Process of Dramaturgy. She is a Board Member of LMDA and is the lead mentor for the Early Career Dramaturgs.
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