2014 TCG National Conference Day 2

by Jacqueline E. Lawton

in National Conference

Post image for 2014 TCG National Conference Day 2

(Photo by Michal Daniel.)

Day Two of the conference was deeply challenging, but ultimately meaningful and empowering. I woke up thinking about this quote from Peter Brosius’ speech:

“We are all storytellers.

And that’s an exciting statement to make, because stories have power.
Whose story we’re telling matters.

The point of view through which we tell the story matters and that those who are left out of the story or whose story is never heard—they matter.”

I believe this with every fiber of my being. If we want theatre to remain relevant, we must program, hire, foster, and model the movement towards greater equity, inclusivity, and diversity. Yet, season after season … so many voices are excluded.

I left my hotel room determined to be a part of as many conversations as possible. As TCG’s Diversity and Inclusion online curator, I’m usually bearing witness and recording. But this year, I found myself standing up and speaking out far more.

Continuing the Identity Affinity Groups, today’s session began with two Sexual Orientation Affinity Groups:

  • Lesbian and Bi-Sexual Women: Sage Alia Clemenco, Manager of Community Partnerships (Cornerstone Theater Company)
-          Visibility: the contribution of Lesbian and Bi-sexual women to the American Theatre is great, but largely invisible.
-          Inclusion: Bi-women shared a sense of appreciation for being included in the title of the session and wondered why the same was not true of the male session.
-          Intersectionality: This conversation goes beyond LGBTQ. How can we start to be our full selves in these conversations and not compartmentalize our identity(ies)?
-          Power of Language: Can we think about Alliance rather than Solidarity? Alliance is a more active word, to be an ally you have to be willing to take action.
-          Representation: We’re not used to seeing ourselves onstage as representations of LGBTQ stories. We need to be challenging the notion that a cisgender, white gay man is the example of LGBTQ in the theater.
-          Model the Movement: Examples shared about artistic leaders (at Geva and OSF) who aren’t afraid to put the work onstage and make their theaters inclusive spaces. They are willing to be in dialogue with patrons who have concerns, but not acquiesce to fear.
-          Next steps: Moving forward there is interest in sharing resources and information about upcoming  and ongoing work and a list of plays that show an original or nuanced perspective.
  • Gay Men: Michael Robertson,Managing Director (Lark Play Development Center), shared this report out on the session:
-          Unspoken comfort: Several folks mentioned an unspoken bond, feeling, understanding when working with each other.
-          Open invitation?: Are gay men automatically welcomed? Do we have privilege simply by being gay men in the creative sector? This question is complicated by being a man of color.
-          Awareness around self-censorship: How do we identify where our individualized oppression is playing a part?  It’s one thing to think that by simply being gay we act to infuse the world with our perspective; it’s another to be more intentional and reflective around this issue.
-          Responsibility to our community and to society: How to respect, support, embrace and bring forward gay history in our work? Is there a political and social imperative to tell the stories?  Do we need to be “history keepers”?  How do we shape the next chapter of gay civil rights?
-          Empathy through Otherness: There’s an opportunity through our otherness to work with other community specific groups to learn about their work, to learn skills, and support each other.

Morning Plenary Session by Game Design and Theatre presented by Jane McGonigal

TCG Conference

(Photo by Michal Daniel.)

The morning plenary session was lively, engaging, and even involved a large group thumb wrestling match! The speaker was none other than Jane McGonigal—today’s leading speaker on the engagement economy and the application of game-design to the real world. Admittedly, I’m not a gamer, but I enjoyed it when I was young. I enjoyed the grand and epic storytelling aspect of it. I loved the idea of being the hero of one’s own journey and the gathering of friends along the way to help you on the adventure. So, I had a deep appreciation for her message. Here’s what resonated most:

  • When we play a game, we accept a goal, that goal energizes us. It builds motivation and determination.
  • Game-playing can be our greatest asset as we face the social, economic, and environmental problems of the 21st century.
  • When we play games we are invited to act differently, to transgress community norms and some social responsibilities. We have a set of guidelines, clear rules, and instructions.
  • The power of positive emotions to change how we think and act. The more positive emotions we feel, the more determined we are in the face of adversity. The following are 10 positive emotions incited by gaming:
  1. Joy
  2. Relief
  3. Love
  4. Surprise
  5. Pride
  6. Curiosity
  7. Excitement
  8. Awe and Wonder
  9. Contentment
  10. Creativity

Click here to read a wonderful write-up on from Rob Weinert-Kendt, Senior Editor at TCG’s American Theatre.

Morning Breakout Sessions

REPRESENT: Measuring Change, Changing How We Measure

TCG Conference

(Photo by Michael Daniel of Carmen Morgan, Dafina McMillan and August Schulenburg.)

This session was facilitated by Ty Defoe, Leading the Charge: Diversity and Inclusion Fellow (TCG), Dafina McMillan, Director of Communications and Conferences (TCG), Carmen Morgan, Director (Leadership Development in Interethnic Relations – LDIR), and August Schulenburg, Associate Director of Communications (TCG).

REPRESENT is a demographic survey where theatre people self-identify across the intersections of difference.  Through an evolving survey platform, REPRESENT will: measure the current diversity of theatre staff, board and artists; provide robust, real-time snapshots of diversity based on parameters provided by the user; and empower shared language and goal-setting for advancing diversity & inclusion field-wide.

At both the organizational and field-wide level, there is a need for:

  • Reliable benchmarks: While various studies have confirmed inequity across multiple areas of identity, there has been no sustained, longitudinal research into the state of diversity, inclusion and equity in the theatre field. REPRESENT will provide real-time customized reporting across eight intersections of difference to empower activists and theatres to make and measure lasting progress.
  • Shared language and values: We don’t always mean the same things when we talk about gender, race, class, etc. The nuances of identity, and the ways in which the intersections of identity contribute to privilege and oppression, are often lost behind reductive concepts of identity and tokenism that can unintentionally reinscribe inequity. In this way, REPRESENT will serve as an educational as well as a research tool.
  • Authentic self-identification: Additionally, rather than replicating the oppressive categories of a traditional census, which may contain triggers for people, we must let the way people actually self-identify lead our research, rather than forcing people to indentify in ways that are convenient to our preconceived notions.

TCG will be working with Diversity and Inclusion Institute members to think about various ways in which REPRESENT can serve their organizations and the field at large. Here are some initial examples of how the online platform will work:

  • Provide real-time snapshots of diversity. REPRESENT will allow the user to run these reports based on the most current data possible, not on reports from years ago.
  • Create a database of underrepresented theatre leaders. If the theatre people self-identifying through REPRESENT opt-in, they could be added to a database of leaders who identify as part of underrepresented communities to battle the “pipeline” perception and help theatres identify diverse talent in their hiring practices. This will happen through the creation of user-maintained profiles accessed through logging into the TCG website.
  • Connect with other data-sets. In addition to the identity and equity data that REPRESENT will collect, we’ll cross-reference it with other internal data sets, such as the Fiscal Survey and Theater Profiles, so that we can provide even more substantive context. Our hope is that we can also connect with external data sets from partners like AEA and SDC, though privacy of the data we collect will always be paramount.
  • Empower shared goal-setting. We expect to build in collaborative goal-setting functionality so that theatres could collaborate on a local, regional and national way to achieve greater diversity and inclusion. It will also help us identify where there are bright spots and scale up success stories.
  • Make the case. Having reliable data that can provide longitudinal research and benchmarks of progress will help us all make the case of the importance of this work: to our staff and boards, to funders, to audiences and our culture at large. Imagine if we could point to hard date that showed theatre was actually leading the change to greater diversity, inclusion and equity, instead of replicating or even lagging behind our culture at large.

While I was at the REPRESENT breakout session, the following sessions were taking place. I checked in with the facilitators and attendees about the sessions and here’s what they shared about their learnings and discoveries:

Identifying New, Diverse Talent for Your Board

This session continues from the 2013 “Changing Faces of Governance.” Facilitators and attendees identified routes for theatres to find a variety of talented individuals to serve as trustees. These were the key questions that were asked:

  • How can arts and cultural institutions find smart, hardworking professionals to carry on its mission?
  • How can we thoughtfully develop boards so that trustees are diverse in a number of different ways age, race/ethnicity, profession, sexual orientation, economic background, etc. thereby creating energy to fuel the theatre’s mission?

D.C. based director Marie Byrd Sproul, who is also an emerging artistic director attended this session and graciously share the recruitment strategies that were suggested:

  1. Seek out people who have wealth and can bring wealth to the board.
  2. Seek out people who are leaders in the communities you want represented in your audience and on your stages.
  3. Mentor board members. Have a Board of Directors orientation day. Make a list of what will be required of the board member from the governance and financial support to their attendance at production and events, and also representation in their communities
  4. Look for board members who can bring expertise to the table that your company is lacking (ie: a lawyer who understands contract law). Identify female lawyer groups.
  5. Consider bring on a student board of trustees.

Gender Affinity Groups

It was exhilarating that so many Gender Parity sessions were taking place. I wish that I could have attended all of them, but I focused on Playwriting.

Women Playwrights: Sarah Gubbins, Playwright 

During lunch, there were so many gender parity engaging conversations taking place. I took part in the Women Playwright’s discussion, which met outside on the balcony. The sun was warm and bright. We pushed two tables together and added more as the gathering grew. We were surrounded by multiple conversations, which meant we had to lean in close to hear each other. As we dined together, we asked questions, powerful and important questions. I’ll share them here for your meditation, but will save the responses and my takeaway for the report out on the larger Playwrights Edition session that happened followed.

Our Questions:

  • What role does gender play when producing plays by women?
  • Where does the bias come from? How does it play out in our theatre?
  • How do we dispel the myth that women plays are a greater risk?
  • Why are women under-produced? Are you we under-applying?
  • Why are more plays by women stuck in the development cycle?
  • How are we advocating for ourselves (are we advocating enough?)
  • How do we advocate for multiple forms of storytelling structures?

Now, in order to give you as wide and comprehensive a scope as possible on these urgent discussions, I checked in with the facilitators to see what issues and strategies were addressed. Here’s what they had to say:

TCG Conference

(Photo by Michal Daniel.)

Women Directors: Michelle Hensley, Artistic Director (Ten Thousand Things Theatre Company)
Michele reported that the women directors break out session addressed:

  • How does a woman navigate large institutions?
  • How does being a woman affect artistic processes?
  • Actionable ideas:

-    Speak up and ask for what you need in terms of work/life balance and childcare

-    Institutions should have a clear policy about how many women they plan to hire each season.

Women Executive Directors and Managing Directors: Ellen Richard, Managing Director, A.C.T. 

Ellen Richard reported the following:

“I shared information about the study I’m leading with the Wellesley Center for Gender Studies, which you can learn more about here.  We are researching the roadblocks to female leadership in LORT theaters, which we believe will apply to the greater field.  Women may be well represented at leadership positions across TCG, but this includes many small theaters where it is hard to make a decent living.  I am focusing on jobs that pay well and women hold 27% of the jobs.  Women of color and lesbians hold one position in LORT.  LORT was chosen as the study group as it is a defined group, with a 40+ history, nationwide with positions that are well paid.”

Some of the issues raised were:

  • How do we keep women from hurting each other?
  • How do I get noticed if I didn’t go to Yale?
  • How do you deal with a board committee or interviews that asks illegal questions?  “What does your husband think about this move?”
  • How do you get noticed by the headhunters?

Trans* Gender and Gender Non-conforming: Ty Defoe, Diversity & Inclusion Fellow and Abe Rybeck, Artistic Director, The Theater Offensive

  • How do we expand art work and audience understanding of Transgender identity and issues?
  • Is there room/how do we create room for a non-gender binary in this convo about women’s leadership at the conference and beyond? Will someone who is transitioning gender be welcomed at a group that is defined by a gender binary?
  • Could there be a dichotomy here: Feminism vs being an advocate for a minority group within this group?
  • It seems that the conversation that is happening via TCG around the gender parity sometimes feels like men vs. women – counting who is on top
  • What are the small ways we can encourage others to support the option to self-identify in all situations?
  • Example of, in group settings, regularly having everyone in the room declare their preferred pronoun when doing introductions, depending on the day or the moment this changes.
  • Not enough to just have art touch on this topic here and there. How do we make space for these conversations for audience members? Board members? Donors?
  • Are there biases based on the role/title of your job description within a theatre? For example, if you are part of a large, established, theatre, are there certain identity expectations for development staff, or marketing staff, or executive leadership verses, say, artists or education staff?
  • Often times there seem to be systems of support for youth or young people re: gender identity issues, but what about in post school years? In the real world?
  • Who are the companies that are doing good work around providing this support? For example Out and Equal is an org (in San Fran?) that does education for corporate entities, and we think Wells Fargo has some advanced training in Trans-identification.
  • We also struggle when race and gender are pitted against each other in our advocacy issues.
  • It can be exhausting to be in situations where one is always having to educate others about trans issues and to explain their journey, it can be a relief to have allies help in this process.

Click here for a glossary of Tran, Genderqueer, and Queer terms adapted with permission from the Trans and Queer Wellness Initiative.

Afternoon Breakout Sessions

Addressing Gender Parity: Playwrights Edition

We first began the session by addressing women inclusion language: female and women playwrights involves a fluid understanding of gender, gender queer, cis gender female, and intersectional gender. Then we recapped and continued the conversation from lunch. As promised, here are the suggested strategies and my takeaway from this session:


  • 50/50 in 2020: Parity for Women Theatre Artists – Created in response to the 2009 Sands Study, which confirmed the 2002 statistic that fewer than 20% of professionally produced plays in the U.S. are written by women, 50/50 in 2020 is a participatory movement with the goal of achieving parity for professional women theatre artists by the year 2020.
  • Women have to unlearn our own bias against ourselves.
  • Advocate for blind reading to counter the conscious and unconscious pervasive, systemic bias against women playwrights.
  • Tasking boards with the mission to advocate for Gender Parity and Equity in their theatres in the service of their communities.
  • Identify theatres that are getting it right and lift them up in support.
  • Learn how to produce and raise money to support our own work and each other’s.
  • Announcing the vision for the theatre we want to make real.

First, I want to thank TCG for creating so many spaces for the dialogue around Gender Parity in the American Theatre. The bias against women in this country, especially in the American Theatre, is shameful and debilitating. During the women playwrights’ lunch and breakout session, I found myself surrounded by smart, talented, and insightful women who have been disabused over and over by this field. It was painful to hear their voices, power, and strength diminished so deeply, cruelly, and unnecessarily. Please, if you care about the progress, sustainability, vitality, and lasting relevance of the American Theatre, each and every theatre artist, leader, and administrator alive on this planet ought to stand up, speak up, write, dance, shout, and demand full parity and equity in this field.

Again, there were so many sessions that I wanted to attend in this timeslot. I reached out to folks to give me their greatest takeaways:

Fresh Blood: The Role and Responsibility of Criticism in New Play Development

As a playwright, dramaturg, and advocate for theatre criticism, I desperately wanted to be a part of this conversation.

Here’s the description:

The creation of new American plays, and the sustenance of living playwrights, is the mission of many nonprofit theatres and development programs.

  • Does theatre criticism as it’s currently practiced help or hinder this mission?
  • Should critics treat new plays differently, or with an acknowledgment of the developmental process by which plays are honed?
  • How can theatres best nurture new work in an environment in which many of the old certainties about local vs. national theatre coverage, and about the economic prospects for new writing, have changed?

Nikkole Salter, Actress/Playwright/Educator/Administrator and Literary Consultant (Crossroads Theatre Company) shared her observations and reflections:

  • Overall, everyone agrees, informed criticism is vital to the evolution of the art form.
  • No one critic should be empowered via media outlets or institutions to make or break the life of a play/musical, though this has been the case on many occasions.
  • The critic/artist relationship is at its best when a critic is afforded the opportunity to experience an artist’s body of work over an extended period of time.
  • The art of criticism is undermined by the rise of the information/social media age where fewer audience members are turning to critics for recommendations.
  • Though audiences for critiques have waned, producers continue to use them as a barometer for a play’s potential viability.
  • A positive or negative review still has box office power, and definitely impact’s a play’s ability to have a life.
  • Reviewers may also feel as though the criticism format is reductive, but when they reach beyond it, they are often chastised by editors and/or show producers.
  • Since a review can hold so much weight, artists should have the power to determine when a piece of work is criticized – and critics should honor that. There was evidence presented of critics reviewing a show after being asked not to because tickets being sold to the public.

This is certainly an important conversation worthy of further discussion. If you attended, be sure to connect with us about a report out on this session.

Establishing Asian Pacific Islander Visibility In American Theatre

This session marked the launch of the new API’s and Allies Initiative, which unifies the various API Initiatives across the country and fosters alliances among communities and organizations. Here are the critical questions that were addressed:

  • How do we ensure Asian Pacific Islander voices finally get established in the American Theatre?
  • Given statistics showing low API visibility and the repeated artistic controversies, how can the field satisfy the need to increase visibility and authenticity in producing works by and for Asian Pacific Islanders?

Here’s there impressive 51% Preparedness Plan for the American Theatre as presented by Tim Dang, Artistic Director (East West Players):

“Since we’re in Southern California, we always have Preparedness Plans because of Earthquakes. And perhaps an Earthquake will happen to American Theatre. I’m hoping so.

All theaters should strive to achieve at least one of the following to prepare for the tipping point. All funders, government, foundation, corporate and even individual funders should fund those theaters who have achieved at least one of these goals of the 51% Preparedness Plan for the American Theater.

In five years:  2019:

  • 51% of your organization’s artists employed are people of color; and/or
  • 51% of your organization’s artists employed are women; and/or
  • 51% of your organization’s artists employed are under 35.

Artists shall be described as: performers, playwrights, directors, designers, artistic staff such as artistic directors, literary managers, and associate artistic directors.

Artists who are LGBT or disabled are likely to be included in the 51% above but can also be included in the other 49%.”

The response to this plan has been enormously positive and empowering. There will be a more comprehensive blog post soon and I look forward to tracking the impact of this plan as it makes its way across the nation’s regional theatre.

Transforming Your Theatre with Tangible Solutions to Advance Diversity and Inclusion

The goal for this session was to empower organizations to have productive conversations and activate initiatives to advance diversity and inclusion in a non-exhausting way. Theatre practitioners and members of TCG’s Diversity & Inclusion Institute shared case studies for examination.

Patricia Garza, New Play Production Manager (Center Theatre Group) shared a list of questions and strategies that those in attendance plan to continue unpacking:

  • Establishing diversity on our boards and how they can reflect the communities they serve.
  • Building audiences and creating genuine authentic spaces for them: go to them or bring them to our space.
  • Understanding that diversity is a program function and not just a marketing role.
  • If you are not the top leader of your organization, how can you start these conversations?
  • How do we cultivating diversity in the artists and in the organizations?
  • Funding resources for diversity.
  • Observing retention of employees and artists in a non-diverse environment: diversity includes job satisfaction.
  • Strategies for limited capacity organizations that are already stretched thin.
  • How to get an organization’s culture on the same page. Also, how to start a larger conversation with a collection of theatres.
  • How to make clear intention versus accountability?
  • Can we establish Mentoring Programs and a Diversity University?

This is certainly an important conversation worthy of further discussion. If you attended, be sure to connect with us about a report out on this session.

We’re The Problem 

Oh, to be a fly on the wall during this session. The description and questions alone are worthy of field wide discussion by every theatre artist, administrator, leader, critics, and even our audience members. With that in mind, I’m going to share them here for your meditation:

“Every year at TCG we gather to address the same issues and have been doing so for decades. The issues don’t seem to be changing which might lead one to look at the constant factors in the room – us! Are we the problem?

  • Are our artists paid a living wage? Do we truly value our artists and prioritize their needs?
  • Is marketing the first department to get the blame when ticket sales slow or the audiences are walking out?
  • Do we actively and aggressively seek to diversify our stages?
  • Do we regularly hire women playwrights, designers, and directors?
  • Do we seek diverse programming to share with our audiences?
  • Do we have an evaluation process in which our artists and/or staff can give us direct and honest feedback? Or do we live in an ivory tower? Are we protected by an assenting staff?
  • Do we open ourselves to criticism? How do we adequately self-assess and create an environment in which we are both available to give and receive criticism?
  • How do we manage conflict within our organization if we ourselves are not open to hearing alternative conversations?”

A Conversation with Taylor Mac & Craig Lucas

TCG Conference

(Photo by Michal Daniel of Taylor Mac and Craig Lucas.)

Friday’s afternoon’s plenary session featured a conversation between artist Taylor Mac and his greatest fan, playwright Craig Lucas. Taylor spoke with great passion, candor, and nuance about his work, the trajectory of his career, and the impact he hopes to make on his audience. Here are the moments that resonated with me most:

  • If something threatens to take attention away from your story, then you need to incorporate it into the story. This made me think of the wonderful kite from yesterday!
  • You have to learn to communicate with everyone, but it’s a juggling act. Folks mostly want to be seen and heard.
  • The great joys I have in writing are from discovering something, not telling something. I agree with this so much. I’m write to find to answers to big questions about the world happening around me.
  • People try to hide themselves in the character; when you discover yourself in the character you allow the audience to discover themselves in it.
  • I’d like us to stop needing to see ourselves in all our stories and start instead to have a little more curiosity about those who are different. This, right here, is everything.

Click here to read a full report written by TCG’s Jim O’Quinn and here to watch the conversation on HowlRound. And I encourage you all to Taylor Mac’s website.

Theatres of Color Meeting

Part of TCG’s multi-year, six-point Diversity & Inclusion Initiative includes nurturing Theatres of Color (TOC), who are striving to achieve sustainability, growth, and equity in the field.  TCG is working to develop programming that addresses capacity-building and raises the awareness of the importance of these theatres around the country.

Sarah Bellamy, Co-Artistic Director of Penumbra Theatre and TCG Board Member, shared her notes from the session:

  • What if we committed to listing the other TOC’s in our areas in our playbills? Or, something like a tagline that said, member of the Theatres of Color Coalition including…
  • People were impressed with the action taken by The Kilroys and suggested a similar list for writers of color.
  • There is concern about and a want to discuss succession planning.
  • A want to develop a mechanism for co-productions amongst TOCs.
  • A want to share the scholarship and documentation of our work more broadly. This dovetailed into a discussion about how many TOCs are producing curricula that would be relevant and should be shared or linked more broadly via the web.
  • There was a suggestion to reach out to universities because they have resources of which we might make use.
  • There was a want for real numbers with regard to how many TOCs are currently active.
  • A want for independent economic models that serve us.
  • People want time, space, and capacity to better serve the communities they represent.
  • There is concern that our communities don’t have a history of performing arts philanthropy; how do we encourage this so that we can stop relying so heavily on corporations and foundations.
  • There was a note about the beautiful and alternate models of leadership amongst culturally specific theatres and TOCs.
  • How do we represent ourselves and the work that we’re doing? Could we develop regional coalitions and identify national delegates for a task force?
  • We thought it would be great to have a hashtag that could be used to track our conversations via social media; something like #racialequity.
  • Someone mentioned a want for a searchable database of technicians of color.
  • We all wanted the timeline exercise of when our theatres were established and benchmarks/milestones in our history to be online and something that could be added to virtually.
  • We also discussed legacy documentation via Howlround and TCG​.

With that, Day Two of the conference drew to a close. Attendees made their way to various dine-arounds and performances throughout the city. I had the extraordinary pleasure of being invited along with several members of TCG’s Staff, Board, and Trustees to take part in an absolutely exquisite two-hour sunset sail on the High Spirit!

Sunset Sail

(Photo by Jacqueline E. Lawton.)

When we passed under the Coronado Bridge, I peered out over the waters and my heart swelled with honor, gratitude, and disbelief. I thought back to the fall of 1996, when I was a poor, but hopeful undergraduate student at UT-Austin. It was there that I had first learned about TCG through the American Theatre Magazine that I purchased every month at the Barnes and Nobles. I drew my breath and clasped my heart. I looked around at all of the wonderful people gathered on the bow. It was dark now. The sun has long since set. So, I stole a moment and silently prayed for the opportunity and privilege to do this work in service of the American Theatre for as long as humanly possible.

conf13_jacqueline_lawtonJacqueline 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