Tim Dang of East West Players Launches the 51% Preparedness Plan for the American Theatre to See Change

by Leslie Ishii & Daniel M. Mayeda

in Diversity & Inclusion

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(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.)

2042:  SEE CHANGE/THE 51% PREPAREDNESS PLAN IS LAUNCHED

Tim Dang, Producing Artistic Director of East West Players (EWP), the longest running theatre of color in the country, has launched a national campaign, 2042:  See Change (www.2042SeeChange.org), introducing the 51% Preparedness Plan For The American Theatre.

The Plan challenges our theatre field to keep pace with America’s rapid demographic changes by proposing goals of 51% people of color (POC), 51% women, and 51% hires under 35 years of age to ready our field for future leadership and depth of experience when our nation will be majority minority by 2042.

In light of the Plan’s call for dramatic changes in hiring and programming in the next five years, some have raised concerns whether the Plan represents unlawful quotas.  To the contrary, there are no penalties or fines or other firm sanctions imposed against those who don’t meet these proposed benchmarks.  But, many theaters are located in areas with very substantial minority communities, yet fail to reflect or truly serve those communities.  In fact, California has been considered majority minority since 2010, along with Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas.  So Dang’s suggested benchmarks, albeit aggressive, would potentially bring theatres in these regions up to where their organizations and season selections would more accurately reflect the populations they currently serve.   (For more details see the FAQs on www.2042SeeChange.org.)

“Theatre is all about advancing the conversation with robust dialogue and different points of view,” said Dang.  “All theatres can and should wrestle with coming up with a plan to measurably move the needle toward greater equity, diversity and inclusion in all that they do.  Strict quotas are unlawful and none are called for.  But to have no aggressive and accountable plan in place is to plan for failure and obsolescence.”  The Plan also notes America’s labor pools, audiences, and donors are all rapidly changing so Dang encourages theatres that feel they may not succeed with this particular call to action, to create their own diversity policy and to share it with other theatres.

Theatres and organizations who have lined up to endorse the Plan already include 2g, A Noise Within, African Continuum Theatre Company, Artists At Play, Ensemble Studio Theatre—NY, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, LA Women’s Shakespeare, Lark Play Development Center, Los Angeles Theater Center, Latino Theater Company operators of the Los Angeles Theater Center, Ma-Yi Theatre Company, Mu Performing Arts, National Asian American Theatre Company, National Black Theatre, Native Voices at the Autry, Pasadena Playhouse, Playwright’s Arena, Pork Filled Productions, Shakespeare By The Sea/Little Fish Theatre, TeAda Productions, The Movement Theatre Company, Theatre Of The Offensive, and Two Pence Theater Company.  Endorsing organizations already include American Indians In Film and Television, Asian Americans Advancing Justice—LA , Asian American Performers Action Coalition—NY, Asian Pacific American Friends of the Theatre, Los Angeles LGBT Center, and National Hispanic Media Coalition.

THE 51% PLAN TRAVELS TO DETROIT

On January 30, 2015, Tim Dang presented at Engage 2015, SphinxCon: Empowering Ideas For Diversity In The Arts, where MC/Facilitator, Eric Booth , stated that SphinxCon’s goal was to help us [arts leaders] to empower change.

Dang opened the conference with his presentation of the 51% Preparedness Plan and a timeline illuminating the urgent need for the American Theatre to face the realities of demographic changes. Teresa Eyring, Executive Director of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), and Gary Anderson, Producing Artistic Director of Plowshares Theatre Company, followed in a panel discussion regarding the Plan, equity, diversity and inclusion in the American Theatre.

Eyring opened the panel discussion by saying she was impressed with the amount of work Tim Dang and East West Players had done on this plan in less than a year.  Eyring went on to say, “It’s a throw down that says let’s set fire to the talk and allow real change and real action to rise from the ashes…It says we’re not going to wait for TCG, that is me, or the NEA, or the NFL, or the CIA to tell us what we have to do…everybody is here because you believe, as I certainly do, that there are structural inequities with respect to opportunities.”

Anderson, followed with, “the fact that the American Theatre has been slow to attack this issue is not based on not being aware of the circumstances.  It’s being unwilling to do it.  Fredrick Douglas said that power concedes nothing without a demand and if you look at the progressive movements in this country, whether it’s the labor unions, whether it’s civil rights, whether it’s women’s rights, nothing had actually happened without us putting some form of mandate on it.“  Anderson applauded Dang’s visionary challenge and courage to put forth this mandate to the theatre field, and spoke of the need for pressure to generate real systemic change.  He went on to observe that expecting that the theatre field is going to make change without some kind of endorsement or pressure is unrealistic.

Anderson reminded us that the opportunities that led to the Black wealth that we see here [in Detroit] today from the auto industry were due to quotas and penalties regarding affirmative action programs and government contracts.  The discussion brought out that the shift in demographics doesn’t guarantee there will be a shift or sharing of power in who controls the levers, again, without mandates and/or sufficient pressure.

Dynamic discussion continued and began to look at the provocative subject of funding criteria in relation to equity, diversity and inclusion.  To Anderson’s point, it was brought up that the Arts Council of England has mandated a diversity and inclusion policy so that going forward an organization must meet diversity requirements or lose their funding.

At the closing plenary of SphinxCon, Dang raised the question of funding criteria and whether  organizations should be  required to have diversity plans in order to qualify for funding. NEA Chairman, Jane Chu replied that Dang should stay in touch and follow this conversation as it is on the current NEA agenda.

Chu’s message was that the arts are for everyone, the arts give us the ability for multiple points of view and this strengthens our communities and nation.  Chu stated we must change the old paradigm that artists are off by themselves when in fact the arts infuse society with necessary and innovative skills and methodology that can be naturally tethered to the needs in many sectors.  She emphasized that we must let go of either/or, and to embrace both/and.

To see Tim Dang’s SphinxCon presentation, panel and audience discussion and other conference videos and Sphinx Music news, please click on this link: http://www.sphinxmusic.org/sphinxcon-video-archives.html

TCG’s March edition of the American Theatre magazine will continue to cover the 51% Preparedness Plan and 2042: See Change campaign.  Also, go to www.tcg.org and its blog sites to stay current regarding these hot topics of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and their Diversity and Inclusion Institute.

Go to www.2042SeeChange.org to review the 51% Preparedness Plan for yourself.  Check out the theatre/ers and organizations endorsing the Plan and the FAQs regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion concerns.  Feel free to contact Kat Carrido at kcarrido@eastwestplayers.org, or Leslie Ishii at lishii@eastwestplayers.org to learn more about endorsing the Plan and to receive viEWPoints, the EWP newsletter to stay current on the 2042: See Change Campaign.


This article was written by Leslie Ishii with contributions by Daniel M. Mayeda.

Tim DangTIM DANG, author of the 51% Preparedness Plan, has been Producing Artistic Director of East West Players since 1993 and affiliated with the organization since 1980 as actor to director to producer. Under his leadership, East West Players has grown from a 99-seat black box space to a 240-seat mid-sized theater, the David Henry Hwang Theater.  In 2006, Tim played an instrumental role and created the NEXT BIG BANG: THE EXPLOSION OF ASIAN AMERICAN THEATRE, the first-ever national convening of APA arts leaders, academics and artists. In 2009, Tim was recognized with the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award, only the second arts leader in California to receive this prestigious honor. In 2011, EWP and TeAda Productions hosted the Third Annual National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival bringing artists from the US, Canada, India, Australia, China, Singapore, and Great Britain. Tim is on the board of Arts for LA, Theatrical Producers League ­ LA, and the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists. He also serves on the Los Angeles Ad Hoc committee for the Society of Directors and Choreographers.

LeslieLESLIE ISHII launched the first Asian Pacific Islander new works lab, API 2×2, at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), where she had been a FAIR Participant for two seasons.  She is EWP’s diversity liaison and has been an EWP and Center Theatre Group conservatory/project faculty member committed to her liberation/alliance building curriculums in combination with acting and voice work. Recent directing: EWP’s main stage, Takarazuka!!! and Crimes Of The Heart and their educational-tour shows, Taking Flight; The Story Of Katherine Cheung and Dawn’s Light: The Gordon Hirabayashi Story; Artist At Play’s 99 Histories; and currently, USC’s MFA New Works Playwright Festival.  Leslie has been a co-facilitator for TCG’s Diversity/Inclusion Institute and a diversity/inclusion facilitator trainer for OSF.  She also co-organized and co-directed the 1st and 2nd Freedom and Focus International Fitzmaurice Voicework® Conferences in Spain and Canada. She has been a featured presenter at voice and qualitative research conferences in Mexico, Spain, and Austria.  SDC, AEA, Sag-Aftra.

DanielDANIEL M. MAYEDA, a shareholder in the Los Angeles law firm of Leopold, Petrich and Smith, specializes in litigation involving the media and entertainment industries.  He has been named in Los Angeles Magazine as a “Southern California Super Lawyer.”  Dan has been a longtime advocate for accurate and sensitive depictions of Asian Americans in the media.  For over two decades, he has been a member of the Board of Directors and pro bono Legal Counsel of East West Players, the nation’s premiere Asian American theatre organization.  On behalf of EWP, Dan helped lead a national multi-ethnic coalition of civil rights and media groups to persuade the four major television networks to increase the presence of people of color on screen and behind the scenes.  He currently serves as Co-Chair of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, as well as on the national Diversity Advisory Council for Comcast Corporation.