Lisa Richards Toney, Association of Performing Arts Professionals and EDI Voice

We See You White Theater:” BIPOC Demands Document/Advice to Theaters Reading It:

Speaking up for justice as a black person, this document is a breath of fresh air, but what this says is not new. I appreciate the honesty and the detailed rawness of calling out our culture.

I would advise White American Theater leaders to take it seriously in your Board rooms, staging and with your public face. Make it infiltrate throughout the organization. We need to make sure our arts organizations are a safe space for BIPOC leaders and people to exist equitably.

Conversely, I would caution these leaders that they need to make change holistically. And you need to bring in expertise that will help you ask the right questions of your community so that what you are doing will be specific to the audiences and people you serve in that community.

White American Theater Leaders Acknowledging Their Position and Digging Deep Inside:

White American Theater leaders need to be personally committed to cultural equity. This personal aspect is critical to any success. These leaders need to reflect on their own privilege – were you afforded opportunities that someone equally qualified was denied because of skin color or because of their name or university they attended?

Always start the process with the personal and create a safe space for the personal reflection. The biggest obstacle to diversity progress is personal commitment. You need to look at and acknowledge your own biases, privileges and microaggressions as a first step.

White American Theater Leaders Want to Do the Right Thing:

Diversity is not enough. We need to talk about anti-racism. We have to move beyond just the picture with one person of color or one-off show. We need to make sure all voices are at the table AND their perspective is sought and appreciated. There must be equity about decisions made at that table.

White American Theater leaders need to encourage everyone to speak up and not only listen to those who always speak and are conditioned to think that everything they say is very important. If you want real equity, you need everyone to speak and tell the ones who usually do to sit down, take a back seat today and be quiet.

Reorganizing Boards:

Just do it! And be transparent. Don’t say you don’t know people of color. Find them. Call around the community, find black sororities, African-American leaders in the community, professional women, etc. And ask them for help. There is no shame in that.

Have to also examine the organization’s mission statements to ensure a BIPOC person would want to be affiliated with your organization. Be honest about your goals and gaps that need work. Revamping mission statements also provides justification for getting things done and avoiding “tokenism” on Boards.

Educational Institutions:

We need to raise the profile of the theater industry so that we can afford to have paid internships and fellowships that are competitive against other industries. The more we can do to level the playing field in terms of economics, the more BIPOC students will enter the field.

Measurable Actions Instead of Written Statements:

First look at your Strategic Plan and make anti-racism part of your work. This plan is important and will help steer you and make sure there is a process that is sustainable and includes metrics of success.

Look at who your community is and then respond appropriately to that community. Be authentic and understand how much you can do now and what you need to do later.

Successes Parameters:

Each theater is different so there is no “special sauce” for success and no one solution.

Overall, don’t do anything less for BIPOC shows and events. Challenge yourself and tell people what you are doing. Answering the why is really important and the outcome you want.

Notable Quotes:

“Personal commitment is critical. Policies are not just created. There is a personal touch.”

“White American Theater leaders – if you don’t hear someone speaking up, ask them their views. Don’t just listen to the usual suspects.”

“I had to know white people and did not have the luxury of not knowing them.”

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