Actor and activist Jane Vogel founded AGE in 2014 to promote equity for women in theatre through advocacy, community engagement, and financial awards. The symposium programming will include presenters, performances, and engagement sessions to attendees from across the country.
“I define unconscious bias as the difference between what we intend to do, and what we actually do,” says Vogel about the symposium’s theme. “What we intend to do as artists is to do work that is diverse, inclusive, and equitable. We also intend theatre to be the place where we create truth—and yet, if we look at our statistics, that is not what we do.”
Dael Orlandersmith, who performed her play Forever at Portland Center Stage last year, will deliver the keynote speech. The lineup will also include performances of Minita Gandhi’s Muthaland and Barbara Diamond’s film Awareness of Unconscious Gender Bias. Of the 40 presenters and performers, more than half are women of color.
Vogel worked closely with the symposium’s co-sponsor Carmen Suarez, vice president of Global Diversity & Inclusion at Portland State University (PSU), to plan the event. One of Vogel’s goals was to make the event accessible to young people, which was made possible with in-kind donations to waive the registration fees. PSU students will attend the event, as well as the high school students in the Spotlight Musical Theatre Academy and young artists involved in the From the Ground Up program.
While Vogel also works in television—she portrays Fred Armisen’s mother in Portlandia—she felt that theatre was the most powerful platform to promote gender and age equity for the arts.
“I live in the theatre, I love the theatre, and I think theatre is so important,” says Vogel. “Theatre is also very dependent on a classical canon, which is very white and male-centric. That ties our hands, and that is one of the things that we are going to be talking about at the symposium. Since we are so dependent on that canon, how do we move forward when our playwrights are Shakespeare, Sam Shepard, and Arthur Miller?”
AGE will continue to recognize Portland-area theatres who are moving in the right direction for the second annual AGE in the Arts Awards this June. Professional theatres that present at least three mainstage productions a year are eligible for the awards, which are selected by a panel of artists and theatre leaders from across the country. This year, AGE will award a total of $30,000 in varying amounts to theatre companies that have shown a commitment to gender and age equity with playwrights, directors, and actors. The past, current, and upcoming seasons are taken into consideration.
For 2018, AGE aims to raise $50,000 to award to theatres that are committed to equity, which will also include gender parity achievements in design teams.
“Our organization believes that we are in the baby stages of equity—nobody has achieved it,” says Vogel. “It is not about choosing a company that has achieved something, it is about choosing a company that is showing real commitment in moving in that direction.”
After the symposium, AGE also plans to coordinate meetings with artistic directors who support equity, diversity, and inclusion by hosting round table discussions. Engagement groups will be established for women artists and patrons of the arts who are over the age of 40, and another group for women of color. Lastly, AGE will create an engagement group for women under the age of 40 who will meet to attend a show, enjoy pizza and beer, talk about the show in terms of equity, and share the group’s findings with the theatre’s artistic director.
“This is such a complex issue and it is going to take a lot of different avenues to address it,” says Vogel.