TCG Fall Forum Blog: Capitalization and Diversity

by Jacqueline E. Lawton

in Fall Forum

Post image for TCG Fall Forum Blog: Capitalization and Diversity

(Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum.)

It’s been several months since the 2013 TCG Fall Forum on Governance: Investing in Vitality took place, but I’m still charged, motivated, inspired, and encouraged by the experience. The enthusiasm for this year’s topics were palpable as close to 200 theatre administrators, trustees and funders gathered from across the nation. Over the course of three busy days, we participated in seminars and breakout sessions that taught us how to achieve budget surpluses, raise and allocate funds, and maintain sustainable levels of working capital for our organizations. We also examined ways to diversify our staff and board, while also offering rich and vibrant programming to better serve our communities. While interspersed throughout, the weekend began and ended with TCG member theatres from TCG’s Diversity & Inclusion Institute presenting their diversity action plans, sharing challenges and learning moments, and celebrating their achievements. It was my first Fall Forum and I was overjoyed at the opportunity to attend. In this post, I’m going a share a few highlights, videos and resources from the weekend.

On Friday afternoon, several members from TCG’s Diversity & Inclusion Institute convened. For those who don’t know, the D&I Institute grew out of the momentum, sense of urgency, and energy generated from the 2012 TCG Fall Forum on Governance: Leading the Charge and continued through the Diversity & Inclusion Programmatic Arc at the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach. It was at the national conference that TCG officially launched the Institute, a national cohort of 21 theatre organizations including TCG dedicated to advancing diversity and inclusion at their institutions, and started the Diversity and Inclusion Blog Salon on the TCG Circle. We met in October for our first Webinar session, but Friday’s meeting was our second in-person meeting. During this session, which included a check in with one another and skill building exercises around recruitment and hiring practices, we revisited the reasons why we came together and what initially inspired the Institute.

Why Diversity and Inclusion? Why bother? Why now? Because…

  • We want to create quality art.
  • We want to hire and retain the very best talent.
  • We want to reduce costs.
  • We want to effectively manage change.
  • We value every person within our organization.
  • It is tied to our mission and our values.
  • We value the diversity of our communities.

We were also introduced to 2013-2015, Leading the Charge Diversity & Inclusion Fellow, Ty Defoe!

Then, the Fall Forum kicked off with a swanky cocktail reception, a fancy dinner and a decadent tray of desserts. Nurturing both the body and soul, TCG treated us to a delightful keynote address from Actor and Chairman of the Board, The Actors Fund Brian Stokes Mitchell and Actors Fund President & CEO, Joseph P. Benincasa. What I appreciated about both speeches was the supportive and encouraging energy for our work ahead and the reminder that theatre communities should consider ways to support the financial health and well-being of their artists. The Actors Fund was established during the late 1800s, at a time when actors weren’t looked upon too fondly and fellow thespian John Wilkes Booth didn’t help matters by getting all political on us. Fortunately, a young NYU freshman, Harrison Grey Fiske, brought awareness to the difficulties that many actors faced and drummed up support in a local rag, the New York Dramatic Mirror. From his efforts, the Actors Fund was founded on June 8, 1882, and has continued to provide many services to theatre artists ever since. Click here to learn more and here to watch the video.

On Saturday, we heard from a number of excellent and well-informed speakers, but it was the presentation by Susan Nelson of Technical Development Corporation (TDC) and Rebecca Thomas from the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) that set the room on fire.  The people around me couldn’t take notes fast enough and so resorted to capturing the images on their phones. The focus of the presentation was on effective communication, an understanding of how the local market drives your individual business model, and how important it is to establish an integrated capitalization strategy into your long-term organizational strategy. Additionally, special attention was paid to the impact of the ever-changing demographics in our urban centers and suburban communities on a theatre’s audience base, programming needs and economic stability.

These are the seven main points that we were left to consider:

  1. Evaluate your strategy and business model in the context of your marketplace and financial reality.
  2. Engage everyone–staff, board, funders–in integrated planning.
  3. Determine appropriate types and amounts of capital to support your liquidity, adaptability and durability. Understand your risk profile.
  4. Distinguish capital from revenue in organizational plans, financial reporting and fundraising strategies.
  5. Remember, supporters give to mission, not balance sheets.
  6. Manage costs in the context of revenue and capital realities.
  7. Focus on enterprise health as a means to artistic

Click here to view the slides from this presentation, here to watch the video and here for additional resources, including case studies from TCG Member Theatres: The Wooster Group and Ping Chong and Company. Truly excellent resources!

On Sunday morning, TCG hosted a breakfast with theatres of color,  which was moderated by TCG Board Member Sarah Bellamy, Associate Artistic Director, Penumbra Theatre Company. Here’s who was in attendance:

  • Ty Jones, Producing Artistic Director, Classical Theatre of Harlem
  • Marshall Jones III, Producing Artistic Director, Crossroads Theatre Company
  • Leslie Ishii, Director/Writer/Educator, East West Players
  • Jeff Liu, Literary Manager, East West Players
  • Torange Yeghiazarian, Founding Artistic Director, Golden Thread Productions
  • Stephanie McKee, Producing/Artistic Director, Junebug Productions
  • Tisa Chang, Artistic Producing Director, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre
  • Ameer Harper, Associate Producer, St Louis Black Repertory Theatre

This meeting was a continuation of a smaller meeting we had with theatres of color that are part of the Diversity & Inclusion Institute (David Lozano, Executive Artistic Director, Cara Mia Theatre; Marshall Jones III, Producing Artistic Director, Crossroads Theatre; Tre Garrett, Artistic Director, Jubilee Theatre; Sarah Bellamy, Associate Artistic Director, Penumbra Theatre Company; Carmen Morgan and Dafina McMillan). TCG recognizes that the Institute may be predominantly focused on diversity efforts for larger, white institutions and want to think constructively about how to create space to support theatres of color and meet the unique/different needs they have. Nurturing theatres of color is one of the six areas of focus in our multi-year Initiative.

When connecting with Dafina about the meeting, she shared that main two key themes emerged from the breakfast:

  • How to model equitable partnerships between theatres of color and larger, white institutions; and what that means for authentically building community when these partnerships are created.
  • The need to increase the visibility and awareness of the value of theatres of color—(i.e. the work they’ve done to support and nurture a myriad of artists, the legacy of their work and their role in our resident theatre movement, the trust and relationships they have with their communities, etc.)

Then, we all gathered for our morning session when the D&I Institute Members reported out to the larger group on their recent challenges and achievements of their action plans. This was a powerful moment for me. It’s been an honor to work so closely with these theatres and I was proud to watch them present all that they had accomplished in such a short amount of time. Each member theatre has chosen an area to address in order to best serve their staff, artists, stakeholders and community. These were the Common Themes that arose:

  • Recruitment
  • Starting a Diversity and Inclusion Committee Structure
  • Policies around Diversity and Inclusion
  • Community Engagement/Partnerships
  • Training and Education
  • Measurement and Surveys
  • Communication/Marketing

Toward the end of the session, Dafina McMillan  asked the theatres to share any big questions they were still hoping to address. Here are some that came in this conversation:

  • What is the role of theatres of color in all of this D&I work?
  • Who is our audience? Does it differ from project to project? Is that ok? What can we learn from projects that draw diverse audiences to apply to other parts of our work? Does the audience for everything we do need to look diverse?
  • Can this work succeed if your board is, itself, not diverse?
  • How do we respectfully challenge and hold theatres accountable who are not taking initiative in this area?

At this point, the conversation opened up to the room for larger discussion, which turned out to be uplifting, thoughtful and productive. Towards the end, a question was raised about Gender Parity. Specifically, where in the conversation around Diversity and Inclusion is the work around Gender Parity? This question hits on an intersection between race and gender in a powerful, challenging and dynamic way. When it was asked, it landed hard and loud in the room, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. You see, as a woman playwright of color, I see myself being addressed in the work being done around Diversity and Inclusion. However, this woman, who is a white woman, did not see herself being addressed. This becomes concerning, because if white women don’t feel included in the conversation around Diversity and Inclusion, but women of color do, then who are we talking about when we talk about Gender Parity? We didn’t leave the room with a consensus, except to say that there is a need to define this work in a more specific way. Thankfully, the amazing folks at TCG are gathering time, energy and resources to address the intersectionality not only of race and gender, but also around age, class, sexuality, ability, and ethnicity. And we’re going to invite you to take part in this conversation.

The 2013 Fall Forum concluded with comments from TCG’s Executive Director Teresa Eyring and in doing so, she eloquently and magnificently captured the spirit and purpose of our time together:

“First, after this Forum, I am ever more convinced that capitalization and diversity & inclusion aren’t disparate concerns but deeply connected to the long term vitality of our field. Whether we’re discussing human or financial resources, we must, as David Hawkanson said, challenge the models we’ve inherited to see if they still make sense in our rapidly changing world. For it is not just our financial assets that are sometimes trapped in ill-advised endowments; but exclusive structures have evolved with respect to our human assets. Our theatres of color and theatre people of color, women, the LGBTQI community and many others, with full and equitable access to the resources of our field, will lift us all up towards vitality.”

I love hearing Teresa speak.  Her commitment, enthusiasm, passion and vision are so inspiring to me.  Click here to read the full speech and here for more videos.

On the train ride home that evening, my spirit was rejuvenated! I learned that the financial health of an organization is intrinsically linked to how well or poorly the mission, vision and purpose supports and reflects your community. In order to best serve your community, your stakeholders need to see themselves not only on your stages, but also on your staff and in your board room. I fell in love with theatre again, with its unique ability to inspire social change, encourage economic growth, and bringing communities together. I’m excited about what’s ahead and look forward to seeing everyone at the 2014 TCG National Conference in San Diego.

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.