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. www.megansz.com
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