BALTIMORE: Baltimore Center Stage (BCS) has announced its first round of shifts in practices to help dismantle the systemic exclusion and oppression of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) artists, administrators, producers, and executives in the theatre industry. This action, which puts its initial focus on compensation and working conditions, is a response to the We See You White American Theater demands released on July 8.
“For generations, BIPOC artists have been telling us about the hurtful ways racism is lurking in our art form and in our institutions,” said artistic director Stephanie Ybarra in a statement. “I’m grateful to my colleagues who have labored to put the We See You WAT demands together; it’s past time for a meaningful reckoning with our collective complicity, and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by stakeholders at Baltimore Center Stage who are already committed to this work. As one of only a handful of BIPOC artistic directors leading a predominantly white theatre company, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to this movement—it’s not only urgent, it’s personal.”
For its first round of adjustments, BCS will prioritize changes in compensation and work hours, two areas they say inadvertently uphold white supremacy. Effective immediately, BCS will pay playwrights a weekly salary of $1,000 throughout the rehearsal process. Looking ahead at how ticket sales and royalty earning potential will be negatively impacted because of the coronavirus, BCS has doubled the guaranteed advance against royalties for its 2020-21 playwrights, including Noah Diaz, Miranda Rose Hall, and Charlayne Woodard.
“Compensating playwrights for their time and labor during a new play rehearsal process is good not only because we’ll be directing more money into the hands of artists, but also because we are able to visualize in our budgets more of the labor that it takes to make a new play,” said Annalisa Dias, playwright and BCS director of artistic partnerships and innovation, in a statement. “Thinking structurally and systemically, this also helps in a small way to dismantle interconnected financial and class-based barriers for BIPOC playwrights entering the field.”
The company will also accelerate a three-year plan to close the pay gap between its LORT B and LORT D performance spaces. Due to the difference in seating capacity between its performance spaces, BCS is required by unions to pay two different tiers of fees to artists. “Although this is standard practice, it can disproportionately negatively affect BIPOC artists who sometimes work in the more flexible, smaller space,” the statement reads.
BCS is also making immediate improvements to better rehearsal conditions. The company is eliminating the “10 out of 12” technical rehearsal, and assuming a five-day rehearsal week instead of the traditional six-day rehearsal week.
In making these shifts, BCS “acknowledges that it follows a long history of culturally specific and BIPOC-led organizations rejecting harmful work traditions that prioritize perfectionism and urgency over the holistic health of theatremakers,” as the company statement put it.
Baltimore Center Stage will continue to address and share updates on its response to the We See You W.A.T. demands.