Our Community Speaks, We Listen
Our Community Speaks, We Listen
On June 3rd of this year we released a statement of solidarity in response to the unjust killings of Black individuals across our country and the racial profiling and inequitable actions that permeate our institutions.
We acknowledged that what our community needed was more than simply our words, but also our actions to reflect our commitment to these Black lives specifically and to the lives of other underserved groups additionally.
The demands that have been made by our communities are for setting a new standard of equality. They are being made in every area, but especially in the arts. Making it clear that if an institution like the Alliance Theatre wants to have a future of relevance and vitality, it will have to expand its access, examine its programming and develop new strategies to do our part in addressing the skeletons in our closet referenced in our statement and becoming a more equitable theater to meet our community’s needs.
Alliance Theatre Listening Circles
In order to take the appropriate action, we first needed to LISTEN. How would we know which way to go if we didn’t get directions first? So, in the vein of our mission of expanding hearts and minds, we started with ourselves and on June 16th began a series of Listening Circles with Black artists who have worked at our theater.
Organized by our theater’s EDI Task Force, an internal group of diverse employees with backgrounds in equitable work, these sessions were to be held with our Artistic Director, Susan Booth and our Managing Director, Mike Schleifer. They would allow us, as an organization, to fully listen to what our community had to say.
So we put out calls to Black artists from every background who had worked with us in the past 3-5 years: staff members, actors, directors, education artists, playwrights, designers, fellows and interns, all for the purpose of telling us the truth of their experiences in working at the Alliance. The job of Susan and Mike was simply to listen. To listen to what these experiences had been, become aware of our shortcomings regarding the needs of Black artists and hear suggestions on how we can make our theater more accommodatable overall.
The sessions lasted for two months, ending on August 19th. During which time over 100 Black artists were contacted. The information we received was invaluable to challenging our own perceptions of where we were in this journey of equity and how much work we still needed to do. To properly serve our communities and give back to them for what they had put on the line in confession to us, we wanted to act quickly. Based on their suggestions the following standards have either been put into place or are in process at the Alliance Theatre:
- Mandatory anti-bias training for all Board of Directors
- Mandatory first day anti-bias training for cast and crew members of all productions moving forward
- Mandatory anti-bias training for ALL Alliance Theatre staff
- Developing an anti-bias training program for the entire Woodruff Arts Center including the security and parking garage staff
- Having the Director of Diversity, Equity, & Engagement (myself) serve as the point of contact for all BIPOC cast & crew members to report to when they need a source outside of the rehearsal room for specific matters
- An EDI Task Force representative to serve on the hiring team to review all job notices, incoming resumes and be a part of all phone and Zoom/in person interviews to create more equitable hiring procedures and increase the diversity of our theater's staff
- Instituting a Stage Manager fellowship program for Graduate student, BIPOC stage managers to work with us for a yearlong residency to increase minority access into the field and provide the necessary professional opportunities
- Instituting a Production Assistant fellowship program for BIPOC undergrad students or recent high school graduates with backgrounds in theater to jump start their careers in the local community and provide them essential exposure and contacts
- Working with the Woodruff Arts Center to open our rehearsal rooms and Blackbox spaces for free usage to BIPOC organizations for meeting spaces, rehearsals, presentations and productions
Know that this is more than simply a list, but a mandate from our community. To give each item on this list a greater context and understanding, future blog posts will have a dedication to each item. Each action will be provided with detail on how it came about and why it is necessary in progressing our theater to being a more equitable home for all.
Racial Reckoning Town Hall
Our listening circles were specific to the Alliance and the work we had to do, but a larger listening circle was very much needed for the Atlanta theater community as a whole. So two organizations, CREAT & IDEA ATL, both composed of a diverse group of local artists with a passion for racial justice, organized an unprecedented event.
The arts leaders of our city were called together for the Town Hall for Racial Reckoning in Atlanta Theater. The event took place June 28th – 30th and brought our community face to face with the unavoidable truth about the inequitable practices that have been in place for far too long. This 3-night event allowed Black artists from all disciplines and backgrounds to come forward and recount firsthand experiences of traumas, unjust operations and inferior treatments they had experienced in their careers while working in Atlanta.
Over the course of the event, nearly 50 speakers had their voices heard by more than 50 local theaters representing professional and semi-professional levels. These accounts were honest and heartbreaking and fully displayed the work that we needed to do for our theater community to uphold its mission of truly making a fully inclusive space for all.
So now that we are aware of the problems, what do we do to fix them?
This blog will be a regular space used to inform you of the work we are doing to address these issues. We want you to be assured that your voice is not only being heard but is necessary in us doing the work we MUST do in order to uphold our mission and values as a theater.
Stay tuned for more updates to come!
Director of Diversity, Equity, & Engagement