2015 TCG National Conference Day One

by Jacqueline E. Lawton

in National Conference

Post image for 2015 TCG National Conference Day One

(Photo by Roger Mastronianni.)

It’s Thursday morning. Day One of the National Conference, my 4th, TCG’s 25th. I scrolled through my Facebook and Twitter feeds. #CharlestonShooting was trending. I turned on the news. Six black women and three black men were worshipping at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, when they were massacred by a white man. I grew up in the church. I could barely breathe. I could barely write this. When will it stop? I got ready for the day… a day that was going to be filled with sessions focusing on privilege, allyship, race and ethnicity… and I wondered—with a heart full of pain, hope, and fear—can we in the theatre address and eradicate racism in the American Theatre in order to present work that not only pushes past stereotypes, but also demonstrates a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive way forward…and can we do it in time to save the next life?

Ty Music

(Photo by Roger Mastronianni. Pictured: Ty Defoe.)

How We Show Up and At the Intersections

TCG strongly believes that we need to come together before we work apart and share best practices for all Conference attendees for making the most of our time together. Led by Teresa Eyring (Executive Director, TCG), Kevin Moore (Managing Director, TCG), Dafina McMillan (Director of Communications and Conferences, TCG), Devon Berkshire (Associate Director of Conferences,TCG), Gus Schulenburg (Associate Director of Communications), and Ty Defoe (TCG’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Fellow, artEquity Facilitator, Writer, and Art Creator), the first two sessions did just that. The “How We Show Up” session was a lively, entertaining, and informative event. Teresa welcomed us all to Cleveland and Ty played a welcoming song in honor of the indigenous people of Ohio, our ancestors past, and future generations. With that, the 25th National Conference was underway. We were introduced to the “Playbook for the Conference” by a number of guest speakers, including yours truly, and learned special events, performances, and programming that were taking place over the next three days.

The “At the Intersections” sessions, which evolved from the Identity Affinity Groups that were introduced at the 2014 Conference in San Diego, explored issues of disability, gender, race and ethnicity and sexual orientation, created space for honest and transparent conversations and raised critical questions. However, last year, there was a great deal of confusion around who could take part and how best to participate. After soliciting feedback from participants, TCG worked to make the sessions clearer, more inclusive, and meaningful.

Ally Skills Building

(Photo by Roger Mastronianni.)

Ally Skills-Building Session
Next, I observed the Ally Skills-Building session, which was led by Dafina McMillan, Carmen Morgan (Director, artEquity), Michael Robertson, and Gus Schulenburg. This was a quick and dirty session that introduced attendees to basic definitions and practices of allyship. These are the core definitions that we reviewed:

  • Privilege: Privilege operates on personal, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional levels and gives advantages, access, favors, and benefits to members of dominant groups at the expense of members of historically marginalized groups. Privileges are unearned and they are granted to people in the dominant groups whether they want those privileges or not, and regardless of their stated intent.
  • Ally: Someone who understands the many layers of institutional and structural barriers, can identify positions of privilege that they hold, and actively works towards equity.
  • Agency: The capacity to make choices and the ability to impose those choices on the world.

Next, we did the Identity and Social Location exercise that helps to identify where you are and where you can serve in allyship with others. Social location helps you identify where you are in terms of socio-economic status, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, disability, and so on. During this session, we focused on sexual orientation, disability, race and ethnicity, and gender. Here are notes from this discussion:

Sexual Orientation

  • Power: Cisgender and heterosexual, but whiteness prevails
  • Privileges: Marriage, lack of fear to present your partner, visibility, public displays of affection, sexual practice seen as a private practice, job security, health and sex education in public schools, consumer privileges, and access to healthcare without discrimination.

Disability

  • Power: Nondisabled people
  • Privileges: Ability to see, hear, and be understood; use of public service; and access to health, education, and employment without discrimination.

Race and Ethnicity

  • Power: White
  • Privilege: Assumption of intelligence and safety (benefit of the doubt), representation in arts, media, government, and access to health, education, and employment without discrimination (social mobility).

Gender

  • Power: White masculine-presenting cisgender men
  • Privilege: Access, power, privilege, higher pay. The list goes on and on…

Once you know where you are, you can better understand how you experience privilege and how you relate to others. At the end of the session, we were reviewed the “To Equalize Power Among Us” and “4 Steps to Becoming an Ally” handouts.

Click here to watch the How We Show Up and part of the Ally Skill-Building Session.

How We Show Up Panorama

(Photo by Roger Mastronianni.)

At the Intersection: Race and Ethnicity

With the “At the Intersection” sessions, TCG hopes to empower each of us to lead with our whole selves. It’s important to have conversations around specific areas of identity, but we must always do so with the wholeness of our experiences in mind and acknowledge the complex identities within ourselves.

Strategies for Indigenous Work: Native Theatre and Allies

Facilitated by Larissa FastHorse (Playwright, TCG Board member), Randy Reinholz (Artistic Director, Native Voices / Professor, San Diego State University), and Ty Defoe (TCG’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Fellow, artEquity Facilitator, Writer, and Art Creator), this  session began by identifying Indigenous participants from any country or geographic region.  It’s important to see who isn’t in the room. Then, we thanked the original caretakers of this land in Cleveland.

We went around the circle and shared why we were here and what we wanted to learn:

  • How to honor the native community in storytelling.
  • How to connect with stakeholders, culture bearers, and have access to resources.
  • How to be a better ally and advocate for native theatre artists.
  • How to write interesting and compelling roles for native actors.
  • How to work with allies beyond just one show or just one event.

Larissa Fasthorse shared her thoughts and reflections on the session as well:

  • We spoke about appreciation vs appropriation and how to help our allies tell the difference.  For positive examples, check out #insteadofredface.
  • Remember that to do a piece about Native American people, you have to talk to an actual Native American person.  The majority of information you find on the internet is told from an outsider’s interpretation of a Native culture.
  • Also, remember when you approach that Native person that it is not a privilege for them to be asked into your theatre.  It is a privilege for your theatre to have them share their culture and expertise. It should be an equitable relationship which means that the Native person needs to be paid for their work.
  • Indigenous people are almost always minorities in our own affinity spaces.  This was the case at our meeting, but we were so moved by the diversity of allies in the room.  We had people from a variety of races, orientations and generations come to support us.
  • We call on every ally we have to take action. Speaking to North America, Native American people are from this land.  If you tell us to “go back to where we came from” we have nowhere else to go. This is our ground zero and we are ALL standing on it. Therefore we need American Theatre to tell our stories.  There is no one else on Earth with this responsibility, tell Native American stories with Native people so that we will not be erased.

During this time, there were so many powerful conversations happening around race and ethnicity. Knowing that I could only be at one of them, I reached out to my amazing colleagues to share their learnings and discoveries from the session.

HiringforDiversity

(Photo by Roger Mastronianni. Pictured: Tirzah Tyler, Sharifa Johka, David Stewart, and James Streeter.)

Hiring for Change: Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Production Departments

Facilitated by Sharifa Johka (FAIR Experience Program Manager), David Stewart (Production Manager, USITT), James Streeter (Production Manager, USITT), Tirzah Tyler (Director of Production, California Shakespeare Theater), this worked to establish field-wide goals—and share progress already made—in creating more diverse and inclusive theatre production departments through hiring and recruitment. Tirzah shared notes from the session:

These are the Top 5 reasons people give for not hiring diverse candidates:

  1. I don’t support a quota system.
  2. I can’t find anyone.
  3. I don’t have time.
  4. I’m worried they won’t feel comfortable.
  5. Why is it my job to increase diversity?

We hear these reasons a lot and often it’s difficult to respond with practical solutions. Here are some suggestions:

  • “You have to believe that diverse and qualified people exist, if you don’t believe then your actions will betray you.” – Sharifa Johka
  • We asked who was having the quota conversation and some people spoke up that it was coming from the funders, and freelance directors sometimes hear it from theaters that require a certain number of actors to be actors of color.  James Streeter encouraged them to respond to quota conversations by asking “Why?”.  You will quickly be able to figure out where the institution is in the conversation if they have to give their reasons.
  • By doing this work you are not only making your department better, but you are building an audience and a community because those staff members have family members and friends that will start attending theater as a result.
  • Here are places where you can find diverse qualified applicants: Seeking Diverse Theater Designers and Technicians, USITT, and OSF FAIR page.
  • “The key to more diverse production departments are the production managers since they do the hiring and set the cultures in their departments.” – David Stewart

Also, Cary Gillet (Production Manager, University of Maryland) shared the Diversity and Inclusion – Best Practices in Hiring for Production Departments with me. This was created by her and other members of the Production Managers’ Forum (PMF) Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Here are some excerpts:

Expand your current network for distributing job descriptions:

  • Regional theatres should consider targeting universities that are focused on more diversity to increase the pool of diverse candidates for their jobs.
  • Increase visibility around production jobs as viable career paths.
  • Send job postings to theatres and universities already working on diversity initiatives.
  • Make sure to post on USITT affinity Facebook groups: USITT People of Color Network, USITT Queer Nation, USITT Women in Theatre.
  • Pair with the organizations that have money and resources to do this type of recruitment.

Adjust your job descriptions to appeal to more people:

  • Include the diversity/inclusion statement in your job postings and put it first. Let readers know right away that this is a priority for your organization.
  • Look closely at your degree requirements. Is it necessary that they have a theatre degree? Many successful theatre professionals did not begin this work in college. Why rule them out?
  • Is it necessary to have an MFA? Many organizations are allowing “requirement inflation” and therefore alienating a large part of the potential work force. “Degree or equivalent experience” helps open the door if it’s listed at the top next to the degree requirement.
  • Length of experience : Allow for work completed while in school to count, not just post grad experience.
  • Reword the experience section to be “preferred” not “required.” Consider listing everything you want in an applicant and then say that you will accept applicants that meet 75% of the list. Or match at least 3 of the 5 categories–you get the idea.

Click here to read the Diversity and Inclusion – Best Practices in Hiring for Production Departments created by the Production Managers’ Forum (PMF) Diversity and Inclusion Committee, May 2015.

Click here to view the Hiring for Change: Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Production Departments.

The Black Theatre Commons

Facilitated by Mica Cole (Associate Producer, Oregon Shakespeare Festival) and Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. (Artistic Director, Civic Ensemble), this session continue the conversation around black from last year, which brought together theatre artists who identify as African, African American, and Black. Mica Cole shared notes from the session:

  • There was discussion on the mental toll for black folks who are operating inside of predominantly white institutions. How do we support the folks who are taking responsibility for educating white folks while navigating white supremacy and doing their paid jobs?
  • There is a trend of predominantly white institutions taking resources and credit for the diversity work that theatres and people of color have been doing for decades. How do we interrupt this pattern of erasure and co-opting?
  • How do we support the retiring veterans of black theatres who have not been afforded the economic resources of their white counterparts? Can we create some kind of retirement fund for the elders who are passing the torch?
  • We need to push against tendency to accuse southern black theatre-makers of quietly accepting the heritage of racism in the south. They, too, are actively trying to dismantle racism in their work.
  • Charleston: How can institutions hold space for the grief and pain around this event so that black practitioners do not have to carve the space out for themselves? How can leaders of white institutions acknowledge the stress that black employees experience everyday as they watch violence inflicted on black bodies and then come to work to execute the mission of their predominantly white organizations?

LatinasinTheatre

(Photo by Roger Mastronianni. Pictured: Lisa Portes, Anthony Rodriguez.)

Latin@s in Theatre: Building a Movement – Forwarding the Work by Creating Strong Relationships and Allyships

Facilitated by Lisa Portes (Director, TCG Spark Leader) and Anthony Rodriguez (Producing Artistic Director, Aurora Theatre), this session was examined how the LTC model might work for other communities and was guided by the following questions: We know the value of creating strong relationships but when it comes to building a movement how do we best marshal our efforts? How do we bridge differences of personality, artistic aesthetic and vision to forward the work? What is the role of allies in building the movement? Lisa shared thoughts and reflections from the meeting:

  • The Latina/o Theatre Commons (LTC) was formed to circumvent a traditional producing structure that has not produced Latina/o theatre at a rate commensurate with the rapidly growing population of Latina/o people in this country.  According to the Pew Research Center:  ”The Hispanic population grew to 53 million in 2012, a 50% increase since 2000 and nearly six times the population in 1970…Meanwhile, the overall U.S. population increased by only 12% from 2000 to 2012.”
  • The LTC was formed in May, 2012 by eight Latina/o theatre makers at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. (the DC8) with the administrative support and financial oversight of Howlround.  The DC8 then marshaled their relationships to create a steering committee of thirty-five.  Since then the LTC has:
    • produced the first national convening of Latina/o theatremakers since 1985, in October, 2013,
    • launched Café Onda, the online platform for the LTC,
    • co-produced with the LATC Encuentro 2014,  a month-long festival of fourteen Latina/ plays by as many Latina/o companies running in rep in November, 2014, and
    • will produce Carnaval 2015, a festival of new Latina/o plays hosted by The Theatre School at DePaul University, July 23-25, 2015
  • The success of the LTC is based on its alternative structure.  The LTC is run by a Steering Committee of 35 committed Latina/o theatremakers from around the country who donate their time, resources, social capital and collective experience to promote Latina/o theatre as vital to the American Theatre.  There is not a single leader.  The LTC has one paid staff-member, the LTC producer, who coordinates and facilitates the activities of the LTC.  The model is a network model. It is built on relationships and a shared passion for creating the New American Theatre.
  • The session was attended by a mix of Latina/o artists and allies.  At the end of the session, each person wrote down one action they intended to take to promote Latina/o theatre.  Those actions included:  three theatres (two Latina/o specific, one a large regional theatre) committed to work together to produce the next Encuentro; one young man committed to creating a youth center in which young Latina/o artists could express themselves; and another woman committed to creating an international touring network for U.S. Latina/o work.

Click here to learn more about the Latino Theatre Commons.

Staging Racial Justice: Tools and Resources for White Folks

Facilitated by Michael Robertson (Managing Director, Lark Play Development Center) and Tiffany Wilhelm (Deputy Director, Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council), this session was inspired by the tactics of Showing Up for Racial Justice. This skills and movement-building session for white-identified theatre people intended to strengthen attendees’ personal analysis around anti-racism, provide tactics for local mobilization, and provide resources and relationships to connect with the national racial justice movement. Tiffany Wilhelm shared the following notes with me:

“More than eighty people showed up for this session designed to take the pulse of people self-identifying as white folks interested in racial justice. The conversation focused on identifying topics for future discussion (at TCG or in other forums) and meeting peers that are interested in shared learning. Participants talked about why they came and what challenges they’re facing in regards to work on racial equity. A longer list of the issues that were discussed is posted here, but here’s an excerpt:

  • How can I create more opportunities to have conversations about race, equity, and inclusion?
  • How do I mitigate fear and reduce resistance to change among other white people?
  • How do I create safe and welcoming spaces?
  • How do I think about the areas where I DO have privilege when I spend a lot of time in spaces where I DON’T have privilege (spaces for women, disability, etc.)?
  • There was a shared desire for learning.
  • I’ve been spending time calling people out, now I’m looking for tools to call people in.
  • As theatres, we’re telling stories. How do I make sure those stories are presented equitably?
  • I’m looking for tools that are being developed in reaction to what’s happening in the world around us.

Michael and I then shared resources including Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice with local affiliates in a growing number of communities around the country. Others in the room shared additional resources, and an updated list is now posted.

The session closed with a quote from civil rights activist Anne Braden, ‘The battle is and always has been a battle for the hearts and minds of White people in this country. The fight against racism is our issue. It’s not something that we’re called on to help People of Color with. We need to become involved with it as if our lives depended on it because really, in truth, they do.’”

Pan-Silk Road Affinity Group in Theatre (includes East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, West Asian/North Africa and Asian Mixed Heritage Peoples!)

Facilitated by Malik Gillani (Executive Director, Silk Road Rising), Leslie Ishii (Educator/Director/Actor/Diversity Liaison, East West Players), and Jamil Khoury (Artistic Director, Silk Road Rising), this session aimed to bring their diaspora together to forward the American Theatre. Jamil shared a summary of the session:

“Out of the Pan-Silk Road Affinity Group emerged a spirit of unity and multiplicity that helps us reimagine identities and build new alliances, while honoring our cultural specificities and the histories of our distinct movements.

A commitment has been made to expand our ‘big tent’ and to very consciously include mixed blood and mixed race experiences, understanding that these are ongoing processes that require further conversation and consensus building.  Those are, in and of themselves, very profound accomplishments. And yet, the most significant accomplishment was the articulation of a bold challenge – the theatre sector’s persistent practices around casting and representation harm artists of color and must come to an end.

A theatre of white normativity, both in the stories told and in the execution of storytelling, is a theatre woefully out-of-sync with the realities of a 21st century America. In fact, it has always been out-of-sync and has been employed in the service of racial injustice.

The Pan-Silk Road Affinity Group has committed itself to naming and calling out such practices as ‘yellow face,’ ‘brown face’ and ‘color blind casting,’ to working within broader coalitions to promote equity and inclusion, and to challenging representation that excludes the experiences and participation of those purportedly being ‘represented.’”

Leslie Ishii also shared thoughts and reflections from the session. What follows includes contributions from Peter J. Kuo, Tim Dang, Desdemona Chiang, Leilani Chang, and Snehal Desai:

“The Pan Silk Road Affinity Group found a single term was a good description for unity, and it made sense to state the individual heritages of those present:

  • Mixed Blood Arab American
  • South Asian
  • Filipina/Filipino
  • Mixed Race Arab American/Egyptian
  • Pakistani/Japanese
  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Indian
  • Chinese/Malaysian/German/Russian
  • Korean Adoptee
  • Filipino/Spanish
  • Mixed Race Native Hawaiian/Chinese/Greek

Our Affinity Group will be creating a detailed Liberation Statement Policy that spells out how the Pan Asian communities with our Allies can move the American Theatre forward. Peter J. Kuo shared a few point:

  • When doing your research as with any theatrical production or season planning process, use all equity/diversity/inclusion tools to:
  • Abolish the practice of ‘yellow face’ and ‘brown face,’ which refers to not just taping the eyes back, but any white actor playing any Asian heritage character. And while you’re at it, abolish ‘Red Face’ and ‘Black Face,’ Crip Face, and Disability Drag;
  • Irradiate Color Blind Casting, because it painfully erases who we are, and insinuates that white is neutral. Color conscious casting recognizes culture and how it can be relevant to the character.
  • You say the All-Asian, All-Black, All-Latino, All-Native production, but you don’t say the All-White production.  If your production is all white, own it, and know the artistic necessity of that choice will be questioned and your lack of diversity is making a statement. With today’s demographics, a diverse cast should be heavily considered.
  • Stop casting our other black and brown brethren in Asian roles causing them to misappropriate our cultures and pitting us against each other.”

Click here to learn about the 51% Preparedness Plan for the American Theatre to See Change.

Self-Care & Communal Renewal for the Angry Activist

Facilitated by Rachel Grossman (Ring Leader, dog & pony dc), this session acknowledged that Equity, Diversity and Inclusion work takes an emotional and spiritual toll on those actively engage in it. No matter how thorough a practice of self-care you employ or how supportive a network you are surrounded with, that unproductive, hopeless anger rises and you simply want to punch a wall and walk away. The goal of this session was to exchange personal stories, identify common “walls” we hit, and share specific practices and strategies that have been helpful in navigating around these walls. Rachel shared notes from this session:

  • The session was attended by a cross-section of professionals, students, and enthusiasts working in a range of areas and organizations that produce theatre and support productions.
  • Everyone who appeared served as mediator(s), regardless of position or environment, which resulted in feeling caught between conflicting worlds and priorities.
  • To varying degrees we wrestle with feelings of incompetency, isolation, guilt, anger, and frustration at the hypocrisy of others (often “institutions”), and that we ourselves are hypocritical.
  • Wholly unhelpful advice we tend to receive include: “try harder;” “ignore it;” placing blame on community(ies) we are working with; being asked to “just talk out” highly complex issues in un-facilitated circumstances. We crave ways to be kinder to ourselves, and understand how to “call out” unproductive behavior in the workplace.
  • At the sessions end, we began exchanging tools (like the ladder of influence) for assisting with de-escalating ourselves before tackling hard conversations with colleagues, and the book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined was shared as a possible beacon of hope.

I left the Strategies for Indigenous Work: Native Theatre and Allies, which was raw, powerful, and emotional. The impact of racism is deep and lasting, but the artists in this room are passionate and resilient. It was inspiring to be among them and I could hardly wait to take part in the Intergenerational Leaders of Color Meeting.

Intergenerational Leaders of Color Meeting (ILOC)

Led by Emilya Cachapero (Director of Artistic and International Programs, TCG) and Dafina McMillan (Director of Communications and Conferences, TCG), the annual ILOC meeting is a safe space for individuals to share knowledge across generations. It’s a space where networking can happen before the conference gets underway and where theatre artists of color can come together, mobilize, and perhaps plant the seeds for future collaborations.

The session began by meeting across generations and getting to know one another. We had a moment of silence to recognize the victims of the Charleston Tragedy. We also acknowledged the leaders of color who came before us. At which point, Dafina shared updates on the Legacy Leaders of Color Video Project (LLCVP), which is part of TCG’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Initiative and will chronicle the stories of the theatre leaders of color who created the work, founded the organizations and led the vanguards of the resident theatre movement.

From there, we worked in small groups to have a more intimate conversation. Here are the notes from my group:

Veteran: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?

  • It’s not about you, your charisma, your talent or you vision, it’s about the work and the work is a collective force and about being in service.
  • It is important for young people to find a mentor.
  • It’s not just about networking. You must build a community. You have to find people who are interested in investing in you. When you build a community, you build capacity.
  • Stay interested. Continue learning. As Anne Bogart says, “Follow your curiosity.”
  • Know how to raise money.

Earlier Careers: What is your knowledge gap and what are hungry to learn/have?

  • We need people to trust and invest in us, so that we work towards build our skills.
  • We need to the opportunity to practice our craft and learn on the job.
  • We need better and more transparent strategies for how to manage the field.
  • We need stronger paths to mentorships.
  • We need to empower each other do the work and tell their stories.

What knowledge and information should be carried into conversation in other sessions over the next few days?

  • Even though we have a shared history of oppression, our experiences are different.
  • We need to learn how to build cultural competency in other cultures.
  • Take time and space to process, and make space younger people to speak.
  • Theatre is not as liberal as it would like to believe. Diversity is not a fad.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for credit or what you need.

When the session ended, I said goodbye to my group members and made my way to the open plenary session.

Teresa Opening

(Photo by Roger Mastronianni. Pictured: Teresa Eyring.)

Opening Plenary Session

During the opening plenary session, Teresa recalled her first TCG Conference in Princeton, where she heard August Wilson give his seminal revolutionary speech, “The Ground on Which I Stand.” She then tasked us to carry that vision and spirit with us over the rest of the conference and think about how each of us will you shake the ground on which we stand and dream about what game changing moments will we make together.

Raymond(Photo by Roger Mastronianni. Pictured: Raymond Bobgan.)

Bob Taylor (Executive Director, Great Lakes Theater) and Raymond Bobgan (Executive Artistic Director, Cleveland Public Theatre welcomed us to Cleveland and Councilman Cimperman spoke passionately about his deep respect and admiration for theatre artists and the work that we do. He lauded us for bringing people together and opening hearts and minds. Knowing that it’s hard to be honest about our past and our present, he thanked us for showing that there is only one way forward and that’s the truth.

Houghton Award

(Photo by Roger Mastronianni. Pictured: David Hawkanson, James Houghton, Teresa Eyring, Woodie King, Jr.)

Next, David Hawkanson (Former Executive Director and Of Counsel, Steppenwolf Theatre) Company and Woodie King, Jr. (Founder and Producing Director, New Federal Theatre) presented the Visionary Game-Changer Award to James Houghton (Founding Artistic Director, Signature Theatre), who spoke about his love for this field. He shared how making the work is where true change comes to life and that we must honor each other in the work. He also said making theatre, any theatre, is a miracle and that the act of making theatre is aspirational. It was refreshing to hear him speak so eloquently about what drew him to theatre.

Comedian and author Barantude Thurston closed out the session with a brilliant, insightful, and hilarious performance. He shared his personal journey from childhood to his current career and not only made us laugh, but also left us with this poignant thought: “Know Thyself. Have a point of view. Who are you is the only question in life that matters.”

Baratunde

Click here to experience this entire plenary for yourself–and it’s worth watching, I assure you.

As the first day of the conference came to a close, I took a moment to check in on the news. I learned that the young white man, whose name I will not write, killed nine unarmed black men and women in a racist, hate filled rage. As I started to process this new information and gather my things, I looked back to one of the handouts we were given during the Intergenerational Leaders of Color meeting. It contained a single quote from Luis Valdez (Founding Artistic Director, El Teatro Campesino):

“I’m doing theatre on the picket line. Is it worth dying for? I decided yes—I have no choice.”

I remained seated and read it again. I let this spirit and energy of Valdez’s words and all that I had heard today wash over me. I inhaled and exhaled deeply. I felt a renewed sense of purpose. I felt ignited by the power of theatre and ready for the days ahead.


Jacqueline Lawton_headshotJacqueline 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