On Wednesday, June 3, Theatre Communications Group’s 2020 conference kicked off on Zoom with speeches by Jamil Jude, artistic director of Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company of Atlanta; actor/director Monique Holt; and actor/playwright Nikkole Salter. The speeches powerfully enunciate the conference’s central focus, which centered the experience of Black theatremakers and others seeking to dismantle white supremacy in solidarity with the national movement against anti-Black violence. The full video can be viewed here.
What We Are Fighting For
It’s crazy to me that I have an opportunity to address you all today. When I participated in my first “real” play, 15 years ago, I had no idea TCG, let alone an entity called “the American theatre,” existed. I was an over-zealous wannabe jock who wasn’t skilled enough to make the travel roster of his D1 football team, so I had some extra time on his hands—why not be in a play? Once I felt the collective breath of an audience taking in the beginning of a play, I was hooked.
And when you fast-forward a few years and I’m a wide-eyed, full-lipped, bushy-tailed 23-year-old and I’ve landed my first professional job as an Allen Lee Hughes Fellow at Arena Stage, I read my first American Theatre article—an older article written by Zelda Fichandler, one of the founders of our beloved movement. Learning the ropes in Zelda’s dreamhouse lit the flame of a desire to aspire to be like Zelda and become the artistic director of a theatre one day.
I then dedicated my career to learning how to do that. I was taught that the position took leadership, problem-solving skills, and a sharp acumen that was only developed after spending years learning the trade—“like blacksmithing,” a former boss of mine once told me.
And here I am. Coming to the end of my 11th year in the industry and on the third day of the ninth month of my career as an artistic director. The job looks a little different than the one I aspired to those years ago.
On the 20th of May, the lovely Emilya Cachapero sent a kind note to me after a Zoom meeting with first-year artistic leaders, telling me how nice it was to see my ever-Zoom-present 2-year-old, Journey, on the call, and that she wanted to gauge my interest in speaking at a TCG conference session about COVID’s impact on our work, where we are as a field, and where we’re going. Emails from Emilya are always welcomed, as an email from her changed my career’s trajectory—she informed me I was receiving a TCG Leadership U grant back in 2015. And yes, Michael Francis and Emilya, I still list the fellowship in my bio, as per the grant agreement. And even though the time period may have ended, I’m still nervous that one day you’ll take back the money!
I quickly affirmed my interest and started thinking about what to say. In these COVID times, when we are forced to be away from our institutions, the words of Jack Reuler came to mind, about inspiring our community to continue to invent non-traditional ways of seeing theatre. After leaving D.C., I moved to Minnesota, where Jack’s “predictably unpredictable” ideology taught me a lot. I recalled his audacious Autonomy production, set in a large event hall featuring driver-less cars. That popped to mind as the type of thing to speak about. While thinking of my time as a Minneapolis artist, the words of mentors of mine, like Marion McClinton, and James A. Williams, and Faye Price started to seep in too. I thought about the collaborations they were able to build at St. Paul’s Penumbra Theatre, one of our field’s pioneering Black theatres, and also the type of community-focused work they would continue at Pillsbury House Theatre, located in the Powderhorn community in South Minneapolis. I began to think about how I could speak to the value of creating culturally relevant theatre companies, deeply rooted in the wants and needs of the community they serve. At that moment, I knew my direction, and the only thing to do was to write the thoughts down and get ready to slightly wing it a bit, per my style, at the conference.
Then on Memorial Day, May 25th, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police at the intersection of 38th and Chicago in the Powderhorn neighborhood in South Minneapolis. Three blocks away from Pillsbury House Theatre on 35th and Chicago.
Marion McClinton once told me, and it’s something I continue to share with actors, that the expression of anger is grief that has been silenced for too long. I deploy the phrase whenever I’m asking an actor to reconsider the impulse to yell or scream their line in hopes of connecting them back to the suppressed grief their character has witnessed.
In the time between the moment the life was snuffed out of George Floyd’s body and me speaking to you today, I’ve seen blocks that I frequented, post offices my mail was delivered to, and the community members I’ve marched in solidarity with lay heavy with hurt, and I’ve seen their pain boil over. In the time between George Floyd’s public lynching and today, I’ve seen Black people, friends, family, my wife, my mother, my colleagues battle back tears as they consider how George Floyd could’ve been them or their child or their parent or their friend or their partner.
One particular colleague is my staff member Nikki Toombs, who reminded me of the words of the great griot August Wilson. In King Hedley II the character Tonia shares her truth:
You take Little Buddy Will’s mother up on Bryn Mawr Road. What she got? A heartache that don’t never go away. She up there now sitting down in her living room. She got to sit down ’cause she can’t stand up. She sitting down trying to figure it out. Trying to figure out what happened. One minute her house is full of life. The next minute it’s full of death. She was waiting for him to come home and they bring her a corpse. Say, “Come down and make the identification. Is this your son?” Got a tag on his toe say “John Doe.” They got to put a number on it. John Doe number four. She got the dinner on the table. Say, “Junior like fried chicken.” She got some of that. Say, “Junior like string beans.” She got some of that. She don’t know Junior ain’t eating no more. He got a pile of clothes she washing up. She don’t know Junior don’t need no more clothes. She look in the closet. Junior ain’t got no suit. She got to go buy him a suit. He can’t try it on. She got to guess the size.
Somebody come up and tell her, “Miss So-and-So, your boy got shot.” She know before they say it. Her knees start to get weak. She shaking her head. She don’t want to hear it. Somebody call the police. They come and pick him up off the sidewalk. Dead nigger on Bryn Mawr Road.
On the same day that a human being named George Floyd was executed, in what could only be viewed as the epitome of white supremacy, in the all-too-powerful-metaphor of a knee pressing onto someone’s neck, choking the life out of them while they plead for breath, I saw a white woman use her privilege to incite panic and alert the police by screaming that a bird-watching Black man was threatening the life of her and her dog.
In the time since those events, I’ve seen my current home, Atlanta, Ga., burn, and in cities across the nation where I’ve created art, inspired empathy doing this thing called theatre, and in cities I’ve called home I’ve seen people take to the streets. In my own home, my partner is so enraged. She’s mad because the companies and organizations she’s supported, corporations she’s worked for, and businesses she’s spent her money with are failing to respond to this moment. We’d love to enjoy watching our 2-year-old embrace her daily discoveries, yet we have to navigate all of this!
In the time since, I’ve watched as members of our creative community and the arts organizations they are affiliated with put out statements of “solidarity” and speak up and out about the “evils of racism.” And I’ve also seen my Black colleagues begin to push back against the racist and white supremacist culture of the American theatre. I’ve seen videos go viral and posts of personal testimonies touch the hearts of the masses as people have decided that their grief has been silenced for far too long.
In my time studying the ways of artistic leaders and those who have held positions of power, influence, and leadership in the American theatre, I’ve come to one upsetting conclusion: It’s all been a lie. The idea that anyone could become a successful artistic director is a lie, because we’ve built our edifices on the pillars of white supremacy. We’ve built boards to perpetuate its principles. We’ve catered to an audience who refuses to embrace our purported values of diversity and equity. We beat down the spirits of the Black and Indigenous artists and administrators of color who put on a thick coat of armor to walk inside our buildings every day. We’ve profited off of their hard work, yet refuse to set them up with a runway to a fully realized career.
I believed the lie. I accepted the idea that the American theatre put in my head that maybe I could change the system. I dedicated my TCG Fellowship to finding ways to create a pathway for more BIPOC leaders to inherit our flagship and important regional theatres. I accepted the lie that change was super hard, and that as leaders we are beholden to backwards boards and aging audiences but eventually change will happen.
Well, if not now, then when?
When discussing the impact of COVID with another newly minted AD, Michael Bobbitt, he said to me that “a return to business as usual will feel like a failure.” Knowing Michael, he probably meant something more profound but I read it to be that COVID is a moment to rethink the ways we run our organizations. That the leadership in this field is made up of problem-solving, sharp-minded individuals that our funders, and our communities have entrusted with their support. These are the visionary leaders I was told I had to apprentice under before becoming an AD. Surely they are capable of making the changes we need.
In that moment, Michael’s truth rubbed up against the big lie. I believe that in any moment of theoretical dissonance, there must be three sides to an argument, so I applied them here. The first is that if that change could not be achieved, then the leadership in the field must not have gotten here by the same merit-based system I was made to believe existed. That the leadership arrived at their positions under qualified to lead us in the direction we all want to be led. If that’s the case, then our leadership has benefited from a system of white privilege that allows under qualified people to assume leadership positions while making it more difficult for people of color, with equal and greater qualifications, to land those same jobs.
If it’s not true, and our leaders are upset and feel triggered that I hinted that they are unqualified for their positions, they need to know that that is exactly how many of my colleagues feel when their intelligence is challenged in board meetings, when our audience members treat patrons of color like they don’t belong, and when we try to tell artists of color that their authentic experiences and expressions don’t fit into the narrow box we’ve outlined for them.
If side number one is untrue, then maybe the reality must be that there has been a gross case of malpractice—similar to the county coroner who did the initial autopsy on George Floyd and arrived at a different conclusion than the independent reviewer. If our leadership cannot create the system that they, in their own statements of solidarity, say they want, then we have been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok!
If the above two statements are untrue, and yet systemic change is still impossible, then the third side is possibly the most disheartening. Our leadership must believe that white supremacy is the law of the land and they, too, believe that Black people aren’t entitled to the same equity in opportunity that they themselves enjoy. Foundations and our funding community must believe this too as they continue to give out grants at disproportionate rates—the racial demographics suggest that the organizations most deserving of these essential dollars are white-led and white-serving.
As we extend the field’s disinterest out to include other BIPOC communities, the possibility of this reality is just too heavy. I pray it’s untrue. I pray that the colleagues who smile with me in sessions, who like pictures of my family on social media, and who commit themselves to the same daily pursuit don’t value me and my “skinfolk” at three-fifths to their whole.
I can’t answer those questions for the field. But I know that our actions will reveal the truth. I know that because the people who have charted the path for me shouted back at our indifference, and urged our field’s leadership to be better decades ago.
And yet the actions of leadership didn’t make enough change. Leaders of the Black Arts Movement: Barbara Ann Teer, Woodie King, Paul Carter Harrison—they’ve done this before, and this is the progress we’ve put forth?! So don’t text me asking me to see how I’m feeling, don’t ask me to come work alongside your organization, don’t email me asking to “run some ideas by me” for free if we aren’t actually gonna do it. Matter of fact, you fix it—you’re visionary leaders.
Honestly, saying these things shouldn’t be on me. It shouldn’t be up to a first-year Black AD to stand up and say enough is enough. I should be focused on ensuring True Colors is living up the values we state and be a home for Black artists and community. I shouldn’t have to feel nervous about the effect of sharing these truths and the negative repercussions that may befall me or my organization or my Black colleagues.
We are facing a crisis in moral leadership.
A white leader should be the one standing up to our colleagues and saying that our practices are wrong. Our white colleagues should call out the bad behavior our artists are speaking out about. I’m thankful for the way in which TCG has made changes to the convening and to today’s panel—their leadership is so crucial and the way they’ve advocated for a disruption of the norm is admirable. Our platforms have to be pathways to progress. I believe that down to my soul. That’s my truth, and I must first hold myself accountable. If I have a platform, and I don’t use it to its full extent, than I am just as complicit as the failed leadership that’s led to this moment. I’ve let white supremacy win. In failing to use my platform, I’ve not just believed the lie, I’ve become the lie. I’ve become the artistic director that I railed against when I set my eyes towards that role at 23.
My fellow panelist Nikkole Salter has said, “If you don’t believe in empathy, then why are you making theatre?” I’ll add to that: If we can’t create a system where we can inspire empathy and achieve true equity, then why are we leading theatres?Our government’s leadership failed to respond to this COVID crisis. That should piss every one of us off. Because of them, we can’t do the things we love—like discover a new moment in a rehearsal room, embrace an audience member who’s experienced something profound inside our theatre, or share in a playwright’s joy at the final curtain of their world premiere. When we eventually return to our institutions, will our leadership ensure that those above experiences, ones that I hoped filled us all with nostalgia and an outburst of joy, will our leadership ensure said experiences are able to be shared by everyone on this call?
That first breath, when the curtain goes up and the audience takes in the beginning of a new story…that’s what we are fighting for.
Thank you to mentors and those who came before me, for your fight. Thank you to Emilya and to TCG for allowing me to speak to you all today.
Jamil Jude, artistic director
Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company, Atlanta
Intersection, Not Inclusion
My name is Monique, but I’m called MoMo. I have been working with TCG since 2017. Working wth Elena Chang, director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI), and Corinna Schulenberg, director of communications & community engagement, who are awesome. I have to tell you, I was impressed. There is still a lot of work to do. Yet I am grateful for this experience.
Thank you for having me on this panel and giving me the opportunity to express from the disability and Deaf theatre community. With COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter going on, there are definitely disorienting times for all of us. No matter what happens, I tell you: I still stand with you all.
When I was a young actor, I thought I could ignore the rest of the world’s problems and just do my job as an actor. But I’ve realized if I did that, I would be living a lie. I am a part of this community, which means we are working together. I never thought: I won’t become involved with those people, because they are not signers. How ridiculous!
I was adopted by a white Mennonite Deaf family and they signed. I went to schools that used sign language. Then I went to a university that didn’t. And I said to myself, oh well, I am here now. Fast-forward, I work in both Deaf theatre and hearing theatre communities. I realize I have to become the bridge between these two worlds, because in the Deaf community, Deaf people don’t get the same information as the hearing people. We don’t hear the information—we see it. With captions and sign language. You may notice there is a sign-language interpreter on this session, plus the captioning [CC] at the bottom of this zoom screen. It is important visual information for us. That’s how we get other Deaf people involved and how we get our information out. Yes, we have to do a lot of legwork to make it happen. I have a lot of people with many legs all over the place!
As an actor, I’ve worked for many different theatre companies. My last “big gig” was with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was an eye-opener for me. Oregon is basically a racist state (not including Portland), and people there would show their true color and they didn’t care. This showed us how racist they were. Bill Rauch was the artistic director. Many POC artists expressed their concerns and discomfort. That was a primary issue. We had company member meetings and had ongoing discourse regarding people of color and LGBTQ people and their safety. Bill wanted to make sure the actors, staff, artists, and patrons felt safe in the town. He got OSF representatives to go over to food stores, restaurants, bars, and various vendors and talk with them about racial and safety issues. They even got stores to agree to stock POC supplies: skin and hair products, etc. OSF engaged all of them, so the town was aware and supportive. OSF helped and created space for their audience to feel safe too.
They did it, so it is possible. We can make it happen. We need to educate people. We need to engage them. OSF’s Juneteenth Celebration included a LGBTQ Celebration to celebrate our art and our stories. That is exactly what we have to do. We need to do more of that. In order to do that correctly means we must have ASL interpreters and captions to include the Deaf community (this also includes hard-of-hearing people who don’t sign but can’t hear very well). Often we, the Deaf community, are excluded. What can we do about that? That is another issue.
Recently, a number of Deaf actors have been in shows on Broadway: Big River, Spring Awakening, Children of a Lesser God, King Lear, and To Kill a Mockingbird. That Deaf actors are being hired on Broadway is amazing. But at the same time, we need to bring more POC. It is happening slowly, and needs to keep moving steadily forward.
What is the problem? Why don’t we see more POC involved? It is because we don’t reach out. Some of that information does not get out there, which means we need a team of scouts—people who know where to go and who to contact in order to get the word out. I think it is a similar challenge for all POC in the theatre community. We have to watch and see and get everyone together. Also, we have to educate the white, able-bodied theatre community. That is one thing I am really pushing for.
Recently Elena Chang at TCG invited me to have a chat when I was in town and figure out what we need to do to take the next step. In fact, when I saw how she worked with theatre companies regarding EDI approach, I thought to myself, this is a wonderful opportunity to expand our target. Let’s expand the EDI workshops into an EDI curriculum, a 16-week course tailored for university. I am not kidding. I am excited by this idea. I believe the theatre, art, film, dance, and music programs, including human resources, can benefit from this, and then we can use this curriculum in high schools and performing arts. Through EDI curriculum, people will become more aware of how we can work together and as a team and stand together as one.
Sometimes I find myself feeling frustrated. I am aware of three things against me: I am 1) Asian, 2) short, and 3) Deaf. What can I do? I suck at selling myself or marketing my skills. That is a fact: When I was a Brownie, I hated selling Girl Scout cookies. I didn’t get that badge. But I think I can get an artist badge after you hear what I have to say.
I have directed some shows for Deaf theatre and very small hearing theatre companies. I want to direct more, and do more radical plays, which has nothing to do with Deafness. So I became more assertive and approached some people in the theatre business to let them know that I would like to direct plays. Their response was, “I am not sure if they are ready for you.” Hearing that response was disheartening. I was the only Deaf student at a hearing university and earned an MFA degree in theatre. And here I am trying to figure out how to pay back my student loan if they won’t give me a chance. So I ended up writing and directing my own play right now and I am getting paid for it.
I was thinking, hearing people who take directing jobs for The Miracle Worker, Children of a Lesser God, and Tribes are arrogant. They are definitely not ready for these jobs. Why? They constantly asking Deaf theatre people to jump in as a last resort to “consult” the director on Deaf culture, sign language, and what do with Deaf actors or Deaf characters. After consulting, directors expect Deaf consultants to work for free. When I learned how much directors earn for one gig in a big Equity production, I found it amazingly insulting. I have noticed a few artistic directors, artists, directors, and theatre access directors are better educated these days. I hope they are open to hiring a Deaf director or team them up with a hearing co-director.
These issues are not limited to the theatre but are also true in the larger world—what we identify as microaggressions. For example, when the access director hires ASL interpreters to interpret the show for Deaf patrons, if there are no POC actors in the play, it never occurs to them to hire POC interpreters. Why not? For example, at a big theatre company, I worked as a DASL, or Director of Artistic Sign Language—we function like dramaturgs and sign-language coaches for theatre interpreters. I was not involved in a production of The Color Purple, but another DASL there told me that they complained that they were only hired if there were POC actors on the stage. The result is that POC interpreters are struggling to get more theatre interpreting experience, because they were rarely hired for any non-POC show gigs.
I do recognize this is a similar problem for others—that theatre companies usually don’t hire POC people for theatre work unless there is a person of color in the show. What is that? WTF? Why? I realize this behavior is not limited in theatre, but it has to stop. We are people. We are artists. Life mimics art, art mimics life. We are intertwined. There is not one or another. It is all intertwined. It is one thing. It is all intersecting.
Some definitions: Inclusion refers to “a person or thing that is included within a larger group or structure, i.e., ‘The exhibition features such inclusions as the study of the little girl.'” Another example: a group of hearing people and one Deaf person. The hearing people want to invite the Deaf person in, but this Deaf person doesn’t speak or hear, so the hearing people have to hire an ASL interpreter for the Deaf person. This sounds like Deafness is a burden.
But intersectionality refers to “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Example: the same group of hearing people and one Deaf person, and the hearing folks want to invite a Deaf person in but they can’t sign. So they hire an ASL interpreter for all of them. This sounds like they acknowledge that with an ASL interpreter, they will be able to communicate with a Deaf person.
Intersectionality means that all of us come together and create a collective world, like a flower. We are definitely each individuals, just like individual petals come together as a collective flower. We can bloom together if we have the same ideology. We have to stop thinking that we are not a part of the flower. We are part of a whole. We are not one group here, and one other group over there. We are one whole. And that is my message. Thank you.
A Time Such as This
What a time this is.
A epically injurious time, yes.
What an uncertain time, absolutely.
What an opportune time.
I don’t mean opportune in the opportunistic way.
In a, “Let’s buy up all the property and stocks while the price is low” way,
In a “kick a person while they’re down, exploit them because they are desperate” way.
But I do mean what a particularly favorable and appropriate time this is.
Every time is a time for something…every condition lends itself to certain activities more than others.
Ask women who have given natural birth: There is a time to breathe and a time to push.
There is a time for everything under the sun.
Some of these times are the products of our applied force
But some of these times are natural.
They’re built in to the life cycle of every living thing.
We call these times breakdown. Fall apart. Breakthrough. Some call them ebb. Some call them winter. Some call them death.
such a time is this.
And, in that regard,
at this time when I feel my industry crumbling around me,
my society crumbling around me,
my nation even, coming undone it seems…
I’m choosing to be excited
Yes, I’m full of anxiety, and rage and exhaustion, and fear but I am also excited because
It could be said
Every tornado has an eye
And we all know from that movie with Helen Hunt
that the middle of that eye is still
It’s a pause.
I’m excited for this pause, this time stand still
I find some solace in the pause
Because in it, we can look up and see everything whirling around us
We can see a bigger picture
We can do some assessments
some strategic planning
We can take a universal long view
From this wide view I can can get out of my “me” narrative and see
that the dis-ease is something we are all experiencing
and it is, well, appropriate.
Just like anger is an appropriate byproduct of perceived injustice
Destruction is an appropriate outcome
an inevitable outcome
a reliable outcome
when you’re out of alignment with the Truth of Nature.
See, human beings create societal systems that reflect how we see the world
In the Western world
Once, we thought the world was flat
And what did we create?
The food chain
The chain of command
Ladders of success.
Over the hundreds of years of believing our perception was reality
we’ve finally, in relatively recent times, come to learn that the world is round
that life is cyclical
that nature is ordered, but not ranked
that lions are as important as bees
that there is no linear chain
instead we have seen that all things are connected, inextricably
if you move one rock in Montana
you make a wave on the coasts of Indonesia
We’ve come to know these things
These things that Indigenous cultures across the globe already knew beyond the shadow of a doubt
The Western world used its scientific method
the method it trusts above all else
to finally come to know these things are True with a capital ’T’
But what systems do we continue to create?
We extolled the virtues of checks and balances, but all our systems have always only manifested the hierarchy.
We are out of alignment with the Truth
whenever any living thing is out of alignment with the Truth of nature
Therein lies the emergence of disease
Dis-ease… signaled by not by pain
Pain is natural, physical
teething is pain
Birth is pain…
growth is pain
injury is pain
mistakes are pain
Suffering is unnecessary
Suffering is the condition of remaining out of alignment, despite opportunities for restoration.
I think it’s safe to say, there is a lot of suffering in our world
Suffering that, at the root, comes from this dis-alignment
Suffering that comes from living a perpetual lie.
Scarcity is a lie
There is enough for every human being on the planet to have everything they need to thrive in life
We’ve created systems that do not allow that Truth to manifest.
But just because we’ve insisted on the experience of scarcity
doesn’t change the Truth of Nature’s abundance.
Just because the clouds cover the sky
doesn’t mean the sun stops shining.
Ability is a lie—we all have different abilities,
we’ve just created a world that is catered to some and not others.
Race is a lie
Our skin has different colors and shades, that’s true
but what we’ve made the skin colors mean, that’s a lie.
Systems that value some people more or less than others
that is a lie.
The gender binary is a lie
Our genitalia may be different, this is true
but what we’ve made this genitalia mean, that’s a lie.
These lies cause suffering, ‘cause that’s what lies do.
Think about the lies you’ve lived
Think about the times you’ve been lied to
And the times you’ve lied
You suffered, unnecessarily
You’ve caused unnecessary suffering
You know this is true
You know this is true.
These lies, this dis-ease and this suffering permeate every aspect of the Western world.
Perhaps every aspect of every world.
Our field is not excluded because it is well-intentioned
because it is a 501(c)3 charitable endeavor
Our field is
also built on these lies
Of scarcity, of hierarchy, of normalcy
the systems we have created
the systems we continue to honor and uphold and work within
affirm year after year
that there is not enough to go around
that some people are more valuable than others
that some things are normal while others are not
Just as we as a nation
year after year
continue to affirm
with the systems that we build and maintain
that all people are not created equal.
All persons are created equal
but we do not believe it
for if we believed it, it would be apparent in our manifested outcomes.
So what do we believe?
We believe there aren’t enough resources
We believe money and power will make us impervious to harm
We believe that the control and dominance of our spheres of influence are the most honorable endeavors
We believe in hazing
We believe in, get more, pay less
We believe in being rich, even if we have to exploit to get it
We believe inclusion is earned through dominance in competition
We believe in the survival of the fittest human being and that weakness is deserving of death
We believe poverty is a moral failing
We believe the victor gets to tell the story
We believe that white people are the center of the world’s progress…are the only contributors of the world’s progress
We believe the ends justify the means
How do I know this is what we believe?
Look at what we’ve created.These beliefs hurt
And yet I’m allowing knowing this to bring me joy
because inherent in the awareness of the suffering
is the potential for the suffering to stop
for balance and alignment with truth to be restored
if we let it.
It is not a transgression to be out of alignment with what is true
It is a transgression to remain out of alignment when you become aware that you are, when you see the suffering and do not change
It was not a ridiculous thing to believe that the world was flat
that’s all we could see
but when it became evident that we wouldn’t fall off the planet at the horizon
that the horizon is perpetual
it also became clear that the line is a lie…
it’s a circle
it’s a sphere
Everything is connected.
Let the systems reflect that truth.
Another cool thing about the Truth of Nature is that it cannot be defied.
Nature will not be mocked
As long as we are out of alignment, we will continue to be nudged to change by our suffering.
We can numb ourselves temporarily
Distract ourselves periodically
but Nature will offer no reprieve to our suffering until we change
Nature’s law is absolute
As long as we continue to live a lie
We will continue to suffer
Suffer until we destroy ourselves even
Nature does not care
She will just take our carcasses and decompose them and make rich soil from all our crap for something new to be created
something new and healthy and in alignment with the Truth
Life goes on.
The difference between human beings and most things in nature
to our knowledge
is that we don’t have to wait for evolution
We can opt into the necessary change
We can actively participate in and direct, to an extent, our own evolution
We don’t have to keep the systems we have
We made them up
We can make up something else.
And there’s no better time to do it
than when things are falling apart
when the dam is breaking
because it would be sad
so very, very sad
it would be even more suffering-inducing
after these moments in our field
to return to manifesting the lies we were manifesting in our systems and in our “best” practices and in our work.
How can we do that?
How can we choose to step out of suffering?
First, I think we can,
even if just for a moment in our imaginations,
we can take this moment to pause to assess the mission and whether or not we’re on it.
Who are we?
Artists…people who give creative expression to life and what it means to be alive.
What are we doing?
We are telling stories.
Why are we doing it?
Because stories are an essential component of human existence.
Every human being is a storyteller by nature
Humans can only experience life through the context of a narrative
Stories are the software to the body’s hardware
Narrative is the only way we can experience and make meaning out of life.
But if every human being is a natural storyteller, then why do we need to be professional storytellers?
Because we want to bring more consciousness to the story-making
We want to influence the collective narrative of humanity so that we may participate with more awareness in our own collective evolution
So that we may choose with more awareness who we want to be
by looking at the events that determine who we are, why we are.
We do it because
Every human being
by virtue of being alive
has a right to contribute to the human narrative
to be included in the collective narrative
to bear witness to the collective narrative of humanity
How do we do it?
Currently? We do it out of integrity.
We say one thing and do another.
The nonprofit theatre world was created to ensure every community has access to participate in evolving collective narrative of humanity… but most of our institutions across the country are seemingly only interested in producing theatre derived from the from New York/Ivy league/Broadway industrial complex
How do we measure success? Box office receipts? Reviews? Transfers? Are those indicators of service for charitable institutions?
We say we give voice to the voiceless when some of us haven’t even heard from our own staff members in earnest.
We say we serve the community, and the people across the street from our institutions don’t even know what we do, let alone find our offerings to be of service to anything they need.
We say we believe in diversity, equity, and inclusion
And our staffs and boards and audiences and the majority of our artists are disproportionately white and cisgendered and “able”
And let’s not even talk about the diversity, equity, and inclusion of ideas and artistic forms
We tell lies.
I was asked by Devon Berkshire to reflect on what I want to change at this moment.
There are many policies I want to change in this world.
I would love it if every case of police misconduct was automatically sent to an independent prosecutor and the officer arrested (like regular civilians are), taken off duty, and put at half or no pay, and kept from using benefits until the issue was thoroughly but speedily resolved. Maybe then they’d think twice about how they treat us, because they’d no longer have the benefit of the doubt… just like every other person in this country.
But that would just be pruning the tree
‘Cause at the root, if the idea that certain lives have no value lives on, prejudice and discrimination and racism, and transphobia, homophobia, and ableism, misogyny will just manifest in some other heinous way.
In our field, I want to take this opportunity to get at the root of this strange fruit we keep producing
I want us to correct this lack of integrity.
Stop lying to ourselves and to each other
Stop lying to the communities we’re in
about what we value, about what we are doing to serve.
Don’t say you’re in solidarity
when what you mean is that you offer distant support and endless sympathy.
‘Cause where I’m from
Solidarity looks like:
My sister is fighting
I take off my earrings, put up my hair and start fighting
And when someone asks me why I’m fighting I say
My sister’s fighting.
“Let me text you the link to the bus schedule so you can get where you’re going.”
I pull up to your house in my car, you get in and I say, “Where we goin’?”
Solidarity with an ideal means
When the tentacles of hierarchy and dominance are dismantling equity
I get some bricks and go rebuild it
I risk my reputation and speak up
I snatch the mic like Senator McCain and say, “No, no. That’s not true.” We can disagree, but we will not lie.
Raymond Bobgan told me that his CFO believes the story of a person or an organization’s values lies in its budget.
How you spend your money and your time tells the story of what means the most to you…and tells the prophecy of what you will become.
I want our budgets to reflect the Truth of Nature
I want our mission statements to reflect the Truth of Nature
I want our actions to reflect the Truth of Nature
I want the systems for the delivery of our services to reflect the Truth of Nature
I want us to be in and maintain this integrity.
I either want us to change our entire system to achieve this integrity… or I want us to tell the truth: that we serve rich and/or white, and/or old, and/or able, and/or cisgendered members of our society… ‘cause that’s what we’re actually doing. That’s who spends money and time with us. That’s who we spend money and time on.
I want us to step into our power and accept the full responsibility of being storytellers
I want us to take the storyteller’s Hippocratic Oath: I shall not lie.
The theatremaking of the past may be just that—of the past. If that system dissipates, as it apparently is doing, do we stop being of service? Is our service no longer useful? Are we non-essential? When there is no hospital, does the nurse stop being necessary? Or do we turn the gym into the hospital? How do we build systems that allow us to be of service to all, no matter what?
We are writing the story that creates meaning out of the events most recently strewn upon us
I want us
at this opportune time
as the tornado razes the land
to find joy
in the destruction of the lie
in the destruction of the systems that limit us to the lie
in the destruction of the cultural notion that we exist for entertainment purposes only
and I want us to find joy
that we get to rebuild
in Truth with a capitol T
We get to make a contribution that will end this unnecessary suffering
This is a turning point full of possibility
We are the storytellers.
We tell stories that create the meaning.
By what we do, we can make this moment mean whatever we want.
What will you do to shape that meaning?
Let’s get to work.