(Photo by Michal Daniel.)
I woke up on the final day filled with hope for the conference and I’m filled with such enormous appreciation for the entire TCG staff. They did such an amazing job of trying to more deeply include diversity conversations and action in all aspects of the Conference instead of them just being relegated to self-defined spaces.
Continuing the Identity Affinity Groups, today’s final session addressed Ability:
- Ability Affinity Group: Kate Langdorf, Education Programs Manager (Ford’s Theatre)
The (Dis)Ability affinity group was aimed at creating a community and discussing issues of access to leadership opportunities for people who identified as having any kind of disability. These are some of the greatest takeaways from the session:
- While there were several other people at the conference with visible physical differences, this was the only group in the Ability thread. We might want to reconsider how we market the session.
- We discussed the difficulty of creating community when people are reluctant to identify as “disabled,” either because they don’t want to be out to potential employers and the world at large, or because they’re fully able to do about anything but just present as having a physical difference.
- One thing we wonder about is the extent to which our perceived inabilities will affect our careers, and what can be done to combat that.
- On the artistic side, we would love to see more variety of ability in performers. This goes for our desire that people without disabilities stop being the first choice to play characters with disabilities, as well as the desire to see people with disabilities playing, you know, people.
Pat Loeb, TCG Conference Volunteer, also shared her thoughts on the session, and hopes for future conference:
“I was sad that so few folks attended the (Dis)Ability session at TCG, but had hoped it was because some of the disabled artists, administrators, board members and trustees were in other affinity groups meeting at the same time. Hopefully, at next year’s conference, the smallest affinity groups – those who identify as Disabled or Native American (and the next smallest groupings: Asian Pacific Islander and Seniors, especially Senior Women), are in a position to be heard by the greater majority who are confused or fearful and need to be helped over that hump.”
I certainly hope TCG will host a conversation around Ageism in the American Theatre at next year’s conference. This dialogue is inherent in the Intergenerational Leaders of Color Affinity Group and it was raised in the Gay Men’s Affinity Group. Of course, it’s also in our conversations around cultivating younger board members. But it would make a wonderful blog series and would serve as an excellent conversation piece to my upcoming series around Theatre for Young Audiences. As always, please be in touch if you’re interested in participating!
For those interested learning more and continuing the conversation around Disability in the American Theatre, please click here and be in touch.
(Photo by Michal Daniel of Peter Royston and Kate Langdorf.)
All Hands on Deck: A Progress Report on Field-wide Equity
Moderated by Carmen Morgan, this session brought together six national theatre service organizations and unions to share actions taken and lessons learned from the past year: Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), The Broadway League, League of Washington Theatres (LORT), Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC), Theatre Communications Group (TCG), and United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). Part progress report and part brainstorm session, this gathering helped catalyze further field-wide collaborations to advance diversity and inclusion. Featured speakers included: Victoria Bailey (Executive Director, Theatre Development Fund), Jennifer Bielstein (Managing Director, Actors Theatre of Louisville), Michael John Garces (Artistic Director, Cornerstone Theater Company), Mary McColl (Executive Director, Actors’ Equity Association), Dafina McMillan (Director of Communications and Conferences, Theatre Communications Group), and David Stewart (Academic Production Manager, Texas Performing Arts). Click here to read the full report. What follows are thoughts, questions, and reflections from the open discussion:
- Ultimately, each of these organizations can state their intentions, make recommendations, and encourage their organizations to take action steps towards greater diversity, inclusivity, and equity, but they can’t mandate them. This was shared frustration in the room.
- We have to find ways to access and nurture theatre artists and administrators who aren’t in undergrad and graduate programs.
- When thinking about how to bring in more diverse artists and administrators, we need to remember the importance of diversifying the representatives on the task force.
- Remember to lean on your artists and staff to network/meet diverse candidates and advocate for your vision in the field.
- Consider looking outside of the field to fill these positions. Look to candidates who are passionate about the arts, education, advocacy, business, communications, community engagement, etc., but who might not hold a theatre degree.
- As we are working to diversify larger institutions, how do we support the theatres of color?
- Part of the strategy of mentorship, without theatres of color as part of the conversation, it’s like cutting of the tributaries to the mainstream. We working to improve the health of the entire field.
- When we talk about theatres of color, we’re shifting the conversation from diversity and inclusion to equity and justice.
(Photo by Michal Daniel.)
- Understanding that each search is different, what are you as leaders doing to use your influence to strategize and serve as powerbrokers in the field on behalf of intersectional diversity?
- Are you speaking to your boards and recruitment firms about the need for diversity and inclusion in the leadership?
- Are there additional funds to allot for diversity hire?
- How do we incentivize these searches and raise awareness of unconscious bias?
- How do we create spaces where men of color and women feel welcome, supported, and achieve equity?
- Why are recruitment firms not a part of this conversation? What is the actionable part of the recruitment efforts? What are the methods of evaluations to evaluate measures?
- How can we grow mentors to support the students?
The conversation was purposeful, focused, and charged. Hard questions were asked, and we left with excellent strategies and key questions on the table. While many of these suggestions are not new, it’s always good to unpack them and repetition builds strength, confidence, and momentum in taking steps towards positive action.
I’d also like to add that when we met last year, Teresa Eyring and Jennifer Bielstein spoke candidly and hopefully about the work they had ahead of them. They were clear that they couldn’t do this work alone and required our support, engagement, and critical curiosity, as well as the commitment and collaboration of other national theatre service organizations in the field. It’s critically important to note that in one year’s time, four leading organizations and unions (AEA,The Broadway League, SDC, and USITT) have joined TCG and LORT and come together in strength and solidarity to advance the principles of diversity, inclusivity, and equity in the American Theatre.
(Photo by Michal Daniel.)
All Women Conversation: Power, Ambition, and Equity (responding to Lean In)
We began the session by reporting out on yesterday’s Gender Identity Affinity Groups. Then Karen Hartman, Playwright, set the agenda:
- Focus is on advocacy and best practices. Goal is for each individual to leave with some ideas.
- Attendees will share examples of advocacy (for self or other women) that worked or partially worked.
- We will take stock of and generate actionable ideas.
- We will make actual commitments to actions great or small.
Here’s an overview of the discussion from Michelle Hensley, Artistic Director (Ten Thousand Things Theater Company):
- There is great energy around gender parity in theater at this moment — coming out of enormous frustration and impatience with how slowly things have been moving. Women want the change to happen NOW — they are tired of waiting for barely tangible “gradual” change. There is a great urgency to this situation at this moment. TCG needs to act boldly to support this energy.
- One of the key ideas was that this must happen through POLICY. Theaters often, for example have policies about how many out-of-town artists vs local artists they can hire. Theaters need to put policies in place that at least 50% of all directors and playwrights hired each year will be women. No more excuses.
- Women need to SPEAK UP. Say to those in power exactly what they want and don’t back off until they get it. We all need to be much better for advocating for ourselves — and EACH OTHER.
- Women also need to make up their own models for doing things, instead of always trying to fit in to the existing hierarchical structures. This includes shaping theater policy around flexibility for families.
- Women’s leadership tendencies to be more cooperative and to listen need to be thought of STRENGTHS, not weaknesses. We need to stop judging ourselves using male models of leadership, and instead, start judging men using our own often superior models.
Here’s a more detailed sharing of the suggestions and strategies from Karen Hartman:
- Reaching out to members of TCG’s Young Leaders of Color to lead training sessions for organizations/practical active tools towards equity and diversity.
- Seek the big jobs/be willing to walk away from the table.
- Important subconversation here about when it’s not possible to walk away, either for family/financial reasons or because there is value to staying and fighting. Be aware of when it’s time to walk and when to stay.
- What to do when you can’t walk away for financial/personal reasons? It’s never black and white – learn how to be a strategist and partner – invest in other communities besides the institutions that you work for.
- Do not be afraid to be the squeaky wheel. Conversation here about being willing to be a bully. PLEASE NOTE: I resisted strongly to this. I asked the room to stop disabusing themselves, to stop taking part in the systemic patriarchal oppression that threatens to silence us. This work requires purposeful, direct, and specific attention at every moment you have an opportunity to engage.
- Ask to be a reader in your institution and be on the frontlines of season planning conversations to advocate for other women. Attend meetings where you are not invited. Put yourself in the room.
- Become advocates for each other- celebrate each other’s successes publicly. Make a practice of speaking about other women’s success. Get out of the habit of humbling self or others in order to be more likeable.
- Apply more, and apply for jobs where you are not a perfect fit on paper. One Managing Director of a LORT theater spoke about how she wasn’t the right candidate on paper but got the job anyway. Men are more likely to apply for things they aren’t completely qualified for; women should do the same.
- Look to women in business in your community. Network with women in other businesses, for ideas about advocacy and also to build future audience and board.
- Importance of Board development in changing leadership - there’s a direct correlation between women represented on boards and in executive leadership in the institution.
- Be a Ninja to make things happen. Meaning look for openings and opportunities.
- Remember as you are given opportunities to continue to make room for others. Conversation here about generosity as the engine for so much of what sustains us. Acknowledgment of suffering in the room even though this was a very positive conversation.
- Look for advocates in unexpected places- don’t write off institutions as places you won’t find fellowship with the people who work there. In other words, women who work at institutions with poor diversity track records may in fact doing a lot to advocate, with results not yet apparent.
Personal Goals, Objectives, and Strategies:
- TCG’s Diversity and Inclusion Blog, which is part of the Literature Review
- My personal blog, which not only addresses women’s issues and features the talented artists of the D.C. Theatre community, but also advocates for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre as well as updates on my own work.
- Consultation for women, especially women of color, to build websites and write blogs of their own.
- Establishing relationships with men and women in leadership positions to advocate for representation and pay equity on and off our stages.
Now, I’d like to hear from you: What are you doing large or small to advocate for women?
(Photo by Michal Daniel of Torange Yeghiazarian.)
All Identity Affinity Groups Check-in
At the REPRESENT breakout session on Friday, Carmen Morgan opened the session with the following quote by Audre Lorde:
“Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.”
She then acknowledged that with TCG’s multi-year, six-point Diversity & Inclusion Initiative to transform the national theatre field into a more inclusive and diverse community:
“We are indeed in uncharted waters, and we are looking for new ways of being in the world, and it is important to acknowledge how difficult that work can be, but also how necessary and rewarding.”
I thought of this as we gathered in the room for the All Identity Affinity Groups session. We began by reporting out on critical moments of learnings and discovers from each sesson. Each facilitator had one minute. Here’s a recap:
- African American Black Affinity – beauty of generations in the room sustainability, financial capacity, lack of communication as a group, support leaders of color, supporting values of work, disparity for education, starting a Black Commons.
- Asian Pacific Islander Affinity – whistles give us a voice in the room, solidary in support of racial emergency, 51% of women, people of color, under35 are a part of your organization.
- Latinos Affinity – deep sense of community and legacy, intergenerational community, setting of goals for next steps as a community.
- Mixed Race/Culture Affinity – they didn’t know if they would get support in the mixed race, where are the mixed characters on stage.
- Native American – build a communication network to support and represent the native theatre community, open for consultation when racist/stereotypical characters on stage.
- White Allies Affinity – the conversation was messy and awkward and the room was full, many of us are at different stages of the journey.
- Intergenerational Leaders of Color – include leaders of color in each other’s playbills, resources sharing, allies building, including Native American and Asian Pacific Islander theatre artists as well as Gender Parity in the conversation, foster mentorship relationships, and honor legacy and history.
- Gay Men – unspoken comfort, open invitation (are gay men automatically welcome), awareness of self-censorship, responsibility to community and society, history keepers, empathy for otherness.
- Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women – should we be using the word alliance, who is supporting and advocating for our stories to be on stage.
- Women Directors – how to balance work and family, how to negotiate being a director while working at a large institution, and what does it mean to be a women in the rehearsal hall.
- Women Executive Directors Affinity – road blocks to women having leadership positions and boards, biases and assumptions surrounding women and children, what happens to the talent pool around women.
- Women Playwrights Affinity – childcare, resources, amassing list, mentorship, policy (title 9), advocating for equity and success stories, applying for jobs.
- Transgender Affinity – starting board meetings with gender preferred pronoun, how is transgender a part of the gender parity conversation, bathrooms at your theatres.
- Disability Affinity – further marginalized, identifying with the label, access to leadership opportunity, pushing past the negative perception.
(Photo by Michal Daniel of Teresa Eyring.)
Carmen facilitated the open conversation in a wonderful way. She placed four chairs at the center of the room. Folks who wanted to speak were invited to take a seat. If someone wanted to enter the circle to speak, they would stand near someone in one of the chairs. If someone wanted to enter the circle and speak to a specific person, they would stand behind that person. If folks didn’t want to speak, they could pass a note to someone in the room or to someone in the circle. What follows are the notes from the discussion:
- Teresa Eyring was the first person to enter the circle. She addressed the moment of learning when Carmen asked the white allies to stand in solidarity and create a space for leaders of intergenerational colors. She offered that she should have been the one to ask other white allies to stand with her in this action.
- How do we make sure there is more than one space for women and people of color?
- What does diversity mean? How do we deepen it past the hiring practice or programming?
- How to create more time to work through these difficult conversations.
- When we talk about crossing borders, we’re going to hit hostile points. There will be disruption.
- It would have been nice to gather together in advance of meeting individuals for clear and effective communication.
- There are so many facets of diversity. You can never be diverse enough. We need to find the strength in a diverse theatre ecosystem.
- It’s okay to do an all-white play if you call it the all-white version of…
- What should the message be to straight white males coming up in theatres?
- What are the qualities of good moderation?
- White people are scared about their place.
- There have been two parallel conferences, how do we make them one.
- The conversation around Diversity and Inclusion are moving from just talk to powerful and purposeful action.
- Can we stop setting plays in other racial/cultural settings over commissioning playwrights from a diversity of racial/cultural backgrounds to write plays?
- Skilled facilitation and skilled and committed allyship.
- While it may seem contradictory, we are exceptional and deserve to be treated fairly.
- Structural inequality is everyone’s responsibility to fight. Evolve from white guilt and black rage. How do we make our environment reflect the people who live in this country in order to help humanity sruvive?
- If one person feels wounded, then we have to fix it. It doesn’t matter if the intent is good, it doesn’t matter if you were wounded.
When TCG, programmed the Identity Affinity Groups as a central and visible part of the national conference, they asked each of us to journey through these uncharted waters with them. They asked us not only to stand with them in strength, courage, and vulnerability, but also to act on principles of interdependency. It is only by building up ourselves and our communities that we can come together to create a better vision and practice for the American Theatre.
(Photo by Michal Daniel of Robert Hooks and Douglas Turner Ward.)
Closing Plenary Session: Towards an Ideal Theater
From beginning to end, the closing plenary session was powerful, complex, and deeply engaging. First, Veteran actor and producer Robert Hooks presented the TCG Theatre Practitioner Award to the legendary co-founder of the Negro Ensemble Company, playwright, actor and director Douglas Turner Ward. I’ve taught so many of his plays with enormous pride, not just to introduce them to my students, but to learn from them as well. I could hardly believe that I was in the room to bear witness to this remarkable occasion and that my hands clasped together in rapid applause to honor his role and contribution to the American Theatre.
(Photo by Michal Daniel of Todd London.)
Then, Todd London took to the stage and invited us to experience the essays, manifestos and speeches of so many visionary leaders of the resident theatre movement. Here’s an excerpt from his opening remarks:
“Our first group gathering on Thursday began with Sarah Bellamy asking, ‘How big do we dare to dream?’ It’s a great question and a great dare. Maybe it’s just my own limitations, but as someone who alternates between enthusiasm and outrage about the American theatre, I often feel that my own dreams are too small. As a result, I’ve started looking backward and forward for inspiration–backward to the people from whom we’ve inherited this field, and forward to those younger than I am, who haven’t yet hit the wall of discouragement or learned to diminish the scale of their expectations. This is, as Roche Schulfer reminded us yesterday, a young, young field. We represent the first example in history of an unsubsidized, nonprofit arts profession growing up in the heart of capitalism. No generation of theater artists and administrators has ever faced a moment like this before. Is it any wonder that we don’t know or agree how to proceed?”
We were encouraged to dream big and draw on courage and wisdom of American Theatre’s pioneers. These commanding declarations of hope, calls for change, and battle cries of revolution were read by a roomful of current theatre leaders. There were also letters written by current artistic leaders to the future leaders of the American Theatre. The readings can be found in An Ideal Theater: Founding Visions for a New American Art, edited by Todd London and published by TCG Books. Here’s a list of the readings and readers:
- Susan Glaspell, The Providence Players, read by Marissa Wolf
- Charles Ludland, the Ridiculous Theatrical Company read by Abe Rybeck
- Jane Adams, the Hull House Dramatic Association, read by Seema Sueko
- William Ball, American Conservatory Theatre, read by Bill Hull
- Ellen Stewart, La Mama Experimental Theatre, read by André De Shields
- Margo Jones, Theatre 47, read by Abigail Adams
- Bill Rauch and Alison Carey, Cornerstone Company read by Michael John Garcés
- Herbert Blau, The Actor’s Workshop, ready by Jonathan Moscone
- Eva Le Gallienne, The Civic Repertory Theatre, read by Aimée Hayes
- Peter Schumann, Bread and Puppet Theatre, read by Blake Robinson
- Gary Sinese, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, read by Megan Shuchman
- José Quintero, Circle in the Square Theatre, read by Lisa Portes
- Alice Lewsisohn Crowley, The Neighborhood Playhouse, read by Lydia Fort
- Peter Zeisler and Tyrone Gurthrie, The Guthrie Theatre, read by Randy Reyes
- Julian Beck, The Living Theatre, read by John Rankin
- W.E.B. Du Bois, KRIGWA Players, read by Marshall Jones
- Michaela O’Harra, New Dramatists, read by Karen Hartmann
- Robert Porter, Barter Theatre, read by Bob Hupp
- R.G Davis, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, read by Luis Alfaro
- Joseph Papp, The New York Shakespeare Festival, read by Tim Sanford
- Joseph Chaiken, The Open Theater, read by Mark Valdez
- Angus Bowmer, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, read by Christopher Acebo
- Robert E. Gard, the Wisconsin Idea Theater, read by Laurie McCants
- Gordon Davidson, the Mark Taper Forum, read by Christopher Ashley
- John O’Neal, the Free Southern Theatre, read by Samuel Roberson
- Judith Malina, the Living Theatre, read by Michelle Hensley
- Luis Valdez, El Teatro Campesino, read by Olga Sanchez
- Zelda Fichandler, Arena Stage, read by Robert Foxworth
- Harold Clurman’s vision statement for the Group Theatre cofounded by Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford, read by Todd London.
(Photo by Michal Daniel.)
Attendees were then invited to come to a microphone and “perform a simple act: say a name. It should be the name of someone whom you believe in, someone who you believe will help build our theatre’s future.”
It was an exhilarating experience, but deeply painful for some. Leaders of the Asian Pacific Islander, Native American, and Latino regional theatre movement were noticeably missing. For all that was accomplished at the TCG 2014 National Conference, there is still so much work to do.
With that, the Conference was over and a lovely reception awaited us on the beautiful terrace. I continued many conversations with dear friends and treasured colleagues before heading over to the TCG Staff dinner, where amid toasts and celebrations, we processed the week and all we had accomplished.
A few hours later, I returned to my hotel room feeling exhausted and invigorated, but ever hopeful. I felt so deeply appreciative for the opportunity to participate, engage, and bear witness in this work. I packed my bags and settled in for a mere four hours of rest before catching my early morning flight back to D.C. Before turning out my light, I reviewed my notes. I meditated on the beautiful and inspiring words of Zelda Fichandler, read by Robert Foxworth:
“What I and a small group of other leaders tried to do in an earlier time was to traverse that very foot – narrow and deep and dangerous as it was. And the place to begin seemed to be within ourselves – inside each of the artists – and, as leader, deep within our own self. Where all arts begin. And surely the most human of the arts.
We live now in a different time and whether this thinking still holds is up to you and what is possible within your contemporary circumstances and how strong your will is to take this path.
This is how I see the core of it: As each artist’s creativity expresses itself in outer form, it links up with, responds to, and stimulates the interior life of the others. As a result, there is created the living experience that we share with an audience, hoping to awaken them from the routine of life, to widen their understanding of themselves, to connect them to their world. To have them leave the theatre changed.
Theatre. The greek word is Teatron. It translates to: A place for seeing.”
And also the succinct and insightful words of Harold Clurman that Todd London shared with us:
“We must help one another find our common ground, we must build our houses on it, arrange it as a dwelling place for the whole family of decent humanity.”
And I thought, yes, this is the work of the American Theatre. This is our duty and purpose, our role and responsibility. This is how we can repay the time we spend on this earth. We need to honor, respect, and lift each other up. And for our growth, sustainability, and survival, we need to create space for each other. No, it isn’t easy even when the best of intentions guide each and every step. And no one is getting it exactly right. But thankfully … thankfully, there is more than one path and so many wonderful, smart, and determined people working to achieve greater diversity, inclusivity, and equity in our field. We’re not in this alone. So, as we take steps and leaps—individually and together, we must remember to be generous, diligent, critical, and hold ourselves and each other accountable.
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