Seeking Diverse Theater Designers and Technicians

by Megan Sandberg-Zakian

in National Conference

Post image for Seeking Diverse Theater Designers and Technicians

(This post is part of the blog salon curated by Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2015 TCG National Conference: Game Change.)

This list emerged from a moment of exhaustion. We all know that our productions are at their best when we have an inventive and diverse group of collaborators who can inspire and challenge each other. As a director and producer, I’m always seeking creative teams that can most vividly bring each project to life. But I was so tired of emailing my networks to identify designers of color for upcoming productions, and having most of my colleagues write back, “I don’t really know anyone, but if you find some, let me know! I want to hire them too!,” or, often, “Why aren’t there any designers of color? It’s so frustrating.” The last straw was when a wonderful, Tony-nominated lighting designer responded to my email, adding that she would love to have a really good African American associate lighting designer – did I know anyone?

Why, oh why, didn’t I have five young designers I could instantly recommend to my colleague, the way I would have been able to recommend directors or playwrights? I don’t know why I know so few designers of color, but I was sure of one thing: it’s not because they don’t exist.

I remembered the impressive and useful “We Exist” google document created by female and trans* playwrights. So I made a google document too, “Seeking Diverse Theater Designers and Technicians,” and sent it around to all the designers and technicians of color that I do know, asking them to add themselves if they’d like to, and to pass it along to their networks. After only a few days of existence, the list had nearly 100 names.

Some other things that happened:

  • Multiple colleagues, including staff at more than one LORT theater, told me they were using the list in current outreach and hiring.
  • An industry podcast asked if they could reach out to the designers on the list to profile on their show.
  • Many people reached out to me with comments and suggestions, including one colleague who told me she could help me make the list into a more user-friendly (and fancy!) searchable database! Stay tuned for more developments on that…
  • And yes, I was ultimately able to send that Tony-nominated lighting designer some young designers to connect with.

People are continuing to add themselves to the document, which is intended as a resource for producers and directors to identify racially and culturally diverse creative teams for theater projects in the US.

It’s inspiring to see the American theater moving towards a more inclusive, representative, accessible art form. This is the Game Change that I get most excited about. And I think it would be game-changing indeed if every time we went to put together a creative team for a project, we were able to say, “This team reflects the multiplicity of our artists and audiences. These folks can create a vivid, multi-dimensional, truthful world that will resonate with all the stakeholders in our community.”

Megan Sandberg-Zakian is a theater-maker based in Somerville, MA. As a freelance director, she has collaborated nationally and internationally from Kansas City to Maine to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Previously, she has served as Associate Director of the Providence Black Repertory Company (RI), and as Associate Artistic Director of both The 52nd Street Project (NYC) and Underground Railway Theater (Cambridge, MA). Megan is a graduate of Brown University and holds an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College.

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.


    This is how we make better theater!

  • David Poole

    Yes!!! This is fab!

  • Albert E. Aubin

    Pleased that East West Players, Los Angeles has taken a strong stance for diversity and inclusion in American theatre under Tim Dang’s leadership.

  • David Svengalis

    I’m ALL for diversity in theatre, but I have a problem with this one. It’s basically a list saying “no whites allowed” I added myself anyway. Why NOT make a complete list with races, gender, age, sexual orientation, political preferences, etc? Because it’s ultimately exclusionary. Let the resume speak for itself, I say.

    It’s all right for me to say “I want to hire a latino stage manager specifically because he’s latino, regardless of his resume.”? Okay. How about “I want to hire a white stage manager specifically because he’s white, regardless of his resume.”? How is one racist and the other not? Both statements are racist and prejudge someone based on the color of their skin.

    Now, I can see that it might be helpful to have a designer that speaks Spanish if the play is in Spanish, for example, but by and large this is not helpful for theatre any more than a list of all white designers.

  • Kim Smith

    I understand where you are coming from but I think it is necessary for this list to be in existence. I’m a Black woman studying lighting design and in my class we have a “Designer of the Day” which features known lighting designers in the industry of no particular sex or race just as long as they fit into the category of known lighting designer, so that we learn about designers in the industry. Through out my research of designers, we have only come across ONE Black known lighting designer. Searching for a designer of non-white decent proves itself to be a much harder task then it should be and yielded little to no results. SO a list like this would be helpful and I don’t think it excludes non-blacks because their the ones finding jobs currently. This post is speaking to a specific group of people that aren’t being easily identified in the industry that they are working in.

  • Reggie LJ