A Call to Action: Wikiturgy Edit-a-Thon

by Jacqueline E. Lawton

in Diversity & Inclusion

This past July 4th, I wrote a Declaration for the American Theatre. I did so after a rather rigorous and wonderfully productive spring that found me in multiple conversations about the power, importance, and potential of the American Theatre. I found myself taking part in conversations about the role of Directors and Playwrights as artistic leaders, social change makers, and community builders at Arena Stage’s The Summit and the significance and influence of Women Playwrights in the American Theatre and Race and Representation on our stages at Everyman Theatre. I was also out of town quite a bit, which allowed me to explore theatre taking part in other areas of the country. I worked as a dramaturg at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New Plays and attended TCG’s National Conference in San Diego and Tijuana. By the time the nation was ready to celebrate its independence, I was exhausted and madly in love with the theatre again. Here is what I wrote at that time:

“On this day, I’d like the American Theatre to embrace the principles of freedom, liberty, and independence, but also of revolution by knowing, truly knowing on a blood and bones level, that we can be better and must do better. We can program, hire, foster, and model the movement towards greater equity, inclusivity, and diversity.

Yes, the work required to achieve diversity, inclusion, and equity is hard. But what about negotiating a better, more just, and equitable life on this planet isn’t hard, necessary, and ultimately worth it? As a black woman playwright, I don’t have as many privileges as many of those holding the highest positions of power and rank in our industry, but I have more than some others fighting hard to be seen and heard, and I believe in the American Theatre. I believe there is room for all of us. The only thing stopping us is fear. Let’s not let fear be our tragic flaw.”

I thought of this when dramaturg/director Jules Odendahl-James contacted me about the Wikiturgy Edit-a-Thon, a grassroots, collective online initiative that aims to bring awareness to ”the myriad under-/unsung theatre artists whose bodies of work contribute to the diverse landscape of theatre.” What excites me about this endeavor is that it asks each of us to take an intersectional approach to the curation, so that we don’t repeat the same pattern of exclusionary behavior that lead to white male dominated anthologies and seasons. Also, this is work that anyone with a passion for theatre, access to a computer, and solid research and writing skills can do.

Here’s more about the event from her article, Public Dramaturgy, Wikipedia, and Combatting “Columbusing,” recently published on HowlRound.com:

To make this event a success and, hopefully, start a bi-annual or yearly tradition, we call on Wikipedia-experienced contributors who might be interested hosting in-person gatherings across the Americas or want to add their public support for the event in other ways. If you are one of those people, send an email to wikiturgy@gmail.com. On February 1, we’ll share another post that gives those locations and the specific hours for collective, in-person editing along with troubleshooting in Wikipedia if you work alone.

For those who are interested, but unfamiliar about how to get started, here is a list of ways to participate.

  1. Add your name to the list of interested collaborators and contribute to a starter group of Wikipedia entries about theatre artists that you feel need editing or improvement via that form or in the comments to this post below. As you search Wikipedia for what has (and has not) been written, look specifically for “stub” articles, items already flagged by editors as needing expansion.
  2. Sign up for a Wikipedia account. Pseudonyms are welcome and some contributors argue they are wise. You do not need to submit an email address to have an account.
  3. Watch Adrienne Wadewitz’s 2008 video on how to edit Wikipedia. It’s an hour long and plays best in Flash.
  4. Review these resources for writing Wikipedia entries that stick and useful links compiled by two outstanding mentors for feminist and postcolonial Wikipedia interventions: Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam and the Global Women Write In (#GWWI) initiative.
  5. If you don’t have time to write a whole entry, consider smaller scale edits to entries that already exist or upload images into existing articles about women theatre artists. Here is the image use policy for Wikipedia.
  6. Track our efforts and tweet your about your own edits using #Wikiturgy.

Now, Jules and I will be hosting Wikiturgy Edit-a-Thon session at a local library here in Chapel Hill and here’s what you can do can you do:

  • Host the Wikiturgy Edit-a-Thon in your conference room or lobby. If you’d like that location listed for others to know about email the details to wikiturgy@gmail.com
  • Invite staff, particularly dramaturgs, literary managers and interns, board members, and affiliated artists to take part.
  • Make a list of theatre artists whose bodies of work contribute to the diverse landscape of theatre.
  • Make and share a list of resources. Understanding how the system of validation works, be it the pipeline or the New York Times. This is an opportunity to identify sources that others can use when building their profiles. Jules and her collaborators will suggest some of these resources in another HowlRound post on February 1.
  • Tell everyone about the Wikiturgy Edit-a-Thon on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 by sharing a link to the article on your website or blog.

I hope that you’re able to accept this call to action and ask others to join you as well. What’s great about the Wikiturgy Edit-a-Thon, is that it encourages artists, leaders, and organizations from across the country to come together, honor the contributions of our colleagues, and document the extraordinary theatre that we’re working so hard to produce on stages and bring to our communities. In doing so, we’re able to build upon the legacy of this more than 2,000 year old art form.


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