An Open Letter to American Regional and Community Theatres on Inclusion:
Hey there Theatres, it’s us: Black women. We have graced your stages, sung in your musicals, danced in your ensembles, and smiled for your promotional photos and press events for decades now. We did, and do, all of that for the love of the art. With the hope that one day we would be afforded the same agency and garner seats at the same tables as everyone else to create art that uplifts us all.
We’ve asked to be heard. So we won’t spend time here explaining why Black women and other minorities sharing seats at the table benefits everyone. At this point, it has been discussed at length. You have been served the information a myriad of ways, for years. You can recite the definition of inclusion by heart, and you know the difference between colorblind, color conscious, and non-traditional casting. You said you wanted to learn to be better when we asked you to be, then. We opened this dialogue 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, 2 years ago, and then we waited for the changes you promised. We are still waiting.
In light of the recent injustices towards black people at the hands of police, a large number of theatres around the country have published statements in support of Black, Indigenous, and Non-Black People of Color (BIPOC). As you have in the past, you as a theatre community invoked the right hashtags and said the right things. You’ve said- as you have in the past- that this time is different. We plan to hold you to your words. The time has come for you to take real action to demonstrate your commitment to Equality, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. The time has come for you to demonstrate your commitment not only to speaking out about racism, but also to actively being anti-racist.
Black women, and the Black Theatre Girl Magic Organization, are taking this time and this space to tell you what we expect to see moving forward towards a more equitable future:
We expect to see more female-identifying BIPOC on your Board of Directors.
We expect to see more Black and Brown Artistic Directors, educators, and designers.
We expect to see more Black producers, directors, and technicians on your teams.
If you produce a work by a playwright of color: we expect to see a non-white person directing it.
We expect an inclusive system of Human Resources and accountability that provides effective leadership when a person of color experiences hostile work situations.
We expect a zero-tolerance policy on racism in the workplace, no matter how small.
We expect to see the stories of BIPOC playwrights and actors told with intention and integrity in all of your seasons.
We expect you to feel accountable to your communities of color. We expect you to develop relationships with the BIPOC communities in your area and in your national theatre network.
The time has come for you to take these actions without delay. Fortunately, Black women have already done a considerable amount of lifting in creating tools and spaces for you to meet these standards. Here are some of the tools we suggest to get you started:
- Assess your culture. The Joy-Jackson Initiative has developed a unique Assessment that challenges arts organizations to identify harmful past behavior and gives them tools to formulate actionable solutions. Black Theatre Girl Magic wants you to take that first step and make that bold commitment. Learn more about taking the assessment at www.JoyJackson.org
- Receive anti-racism training from professional Black educators. There is a very substantial roster of dedicated, talented women whose mission is to work with theatre organizations on EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) and anti-racism. For a referral list, you can contact Black Theatre Girl Magic directly here.
- Read and Research. Please take a look at the following resource material: UNDERSTANDING AND DISMANTLING RACISM: A BOOKLIST FOR WHITE READERS.
Please know that we support you and want you to succeed. We are stronger and better TOGETHER! We will now be holding your feet to the fire. Neglecting to address these inequities in your organization will no longer be ignored or swept under the rug. We strive for tangible impact over good intentions. What really matters is the action you take to make sure your theatre’s culture matches your ideals. We expect to feel safe in your artistic spaces, and it is in your power to make that happen. As a result, we can truly call theatre a place of inclusiveness and acceptance for all, not just some.