BIPOC Artists Unveil Demands for the White American Theatre

Industry News   BIPOC Artists Unveil Demands for the White American Theatre
 
The 31-page document of measures follows the publishing of a powerful letter in June that was signed by 300 theatremakers.
We See You Override

Following the publishing of a powerful letter in June, the We See You White American Theater campaign has released a 31-page document of demands written on behalf of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) theatremakers. The document addresses the necessary redistribution of power and funding, the prioritizing of anti-racist practices and a de-centering of whiteness, and outlines several measures towards a more equitable, safe industry, including specific action steps for The Broadway League, Actors' Equity, IATSE, SDC, and the Casting Society of America.

You can read the 31-page document in its entirety here.

The demands include that every department, sector, or independent company affiliated with any one commercial theatre or Broadway show be made up of at least 50 percent BIPOC staff and artists across all levels and positions; increased and more equitable funding for BIPOC organizations, especially post-COVID; a recalibration of staff salaries at institutions; and ongoing anti-racism training for all theatre staff and board members, including weekly check-ins on this work.

“We demand accountability to anti-racism,” reads the document, followed by the mandate that theatres’ anti-racism policies be publicized within six months from now.

READ: Meet the Collective of Theatremakers Working to Undo Racism in the American Theatre

Beginning with Cultural Competency, the demands include that institutional leaders make honest efforts to establish long-term relationships with BIPOC artists, an end to “police practices of audience response” and to the policing of BIPOC audience members in theatre’s lobbies and rehearsal studios; and that all creative teams undergo anti-racism workshops at the beginning of each rehearsal, culminating in signed statements.

Also listed under Cultural Competency, are mandates regarding land acknowledgment practices—of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tribal land its Native peoples—as well as the acknowledgment of enslaved Africans, to be incorporated into first rehearsal rituals and at the beginning of meetings; the hiring of therapists for shows dealing with racialized experiences, as well as culturally competent facilitators at talkbacks; Gap Training for future leaders of color; the development of intervention protocols (for say, when an audience member is racist); and that costume shops be properly trained in the styling and consultation of Black hair and makeup. “Conversations about a Black actor’s hair are to occur only between the actor and the person responsible for doing the hair,” reads a later point.

Under Working Conditions and Hiring Practices, the campaign outlines more action steps to ensure the affirmative tenets of cultural competency are put into practice.

In a section subtitled Commercial Theatre and Broadway, the demands include the renaming of 50 percent of Broadway theatres with those of BIPOC artists; that at least half of all Broadway houses be reserved for BIPOC stories; lower rental fees and greater flexibility; and an end to contractual security agreements with police. This section of the document also outlines demands for the Tony Administration Committee, including the broadening of Tony eligibility, and over 50 percent BIPOC representation on the Tony-nominating committee.

In a section subtitled Transparency, Compensation, Accountability, and Boards, the document demands an end to the practice of using donor money—raised on the backs of BIPOC artists—for institutional overhead; transparency regarding board member affiliations; the publishing of earned money by white artists and staff alongside that which is earned by BIPOC artists and staff; and a more equitable salary structure within institutions. “We demand that the theatre’s highest paid executive staff members make no more than 10x the yearly salary of the lowest paid full-time staff member,” reads the document.

Under the subject of unions, BIPOC artists demand the divestment from IATSE and its local unions until they comply with anti-racist practices. “If the aforementioned demand is not met, we will demand the formation of BIPOC Entertainment Unions,” reads the document. The mandatory hiring of intimacy directors is repeated throughout the list of demands, including the codifying of an agreement with the Society of Directors and Choreographers.

The critical landscape as well as the disproportionately white media gaze is also addressed, with action steps that include mandatory investment in critic training programs for BIPOC writers; a divestment from salaried positions for critical review and feature writing; and an investment in independent media run by BIPOC journalists.

The final section is headed Academic and Professional Training Programs. The demands listed here include the urgent, immediate prioritization of the health and wellbeing of BIPOC bodies; the immediate decentralization of whiteness as a ‘default’ across all classes including acting, directing, design, and writing; an audit of schools’ pedagogy to ensure the proper inclusion of BIPOC writers; and the formalization of protocols to provide safe structures whereby racist incidents are reported in a timely fashion with a transparent chain of accountability free of fear of retaliation and retribution.

Additional sections of the document include Artistic and Cultural Practices and Funding and Resource Demands for BIPOC Theatre Organizations.

“Again, this is a living document that does not represent every BIPOC stakeholder, and will
be added to or changed by our communities and circumstances,” concludes the document. “We know that deep listening and genuine collaboration are vital to a truly sustainable, antiracist theatrical ecosystem. We look forward to witnessing your work toward its creation.”

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