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   July 13, 2016

On Progress

by Kate Shindle


AEA President Nick Wyman

President Kate Shindle

This column was supposed to be about diversity. We’ve been plan­ning this issue of Equity News, as we do all issues of Equity News, for some time. Diversity in the Amer­ican theatre — indeed, diversity throughout the global entertain­ment industry — is a huge priority here at Equity. In these pages, you will find a reflection of what is happening in our halls these days. We’re actively engaging in conversations and initiatives aimed at rewriting the script of what the theatre looks like. Who gets produced, who gets cast, whose stories get told and whose voices and bodies tell them. To complement what you read in this month’s issue, I hope you’ll check out the guest column I wrote for Variety several weeks ago; you can find it here.

At the eleventh hour, though, with my column woefully overdue and my thoughts consumed with another issue, I feel compelled to shine the spotlight elsewhere for a moment.

A week ago, I was in a midtown Manhattan recording stu­dio with a who’s who of American musical theatre, as well as a handful of legends. Chita Rivera. Bernadette Peters. Audra McDonald. Joel Grey. Carole King. Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jessie Mueller, Idina Menzel, Alice Ripley, Matthew Brod­erick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Whoopi Goldberg, Lin-Manuel Miranda. What an honor to have been invited to be one of the singers. Wow.
Sadly, the purpose that day was bittersweet. On the heels of yet another mass shooting — as we now know, the dead­liest in our nation’s history — the theatre community was struggling to respond. This one hit especially close to home, taking place in an Orlando gay nightclub very early on a Sun­day morning. Initially, I feared that there must have been Equity members among the victims; thank God that this wasn’t the case. That we did not have members killed that night, though, doesn’t diminish the devastation for those who identify as part of the LGBTQI+ community, or those of us who have been longtime straight allies fighting for equali­ty and justice alongside them.

Fortunately, Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley found a positive way to respond to the tragedy: They gathered their friends to cover Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s classic song “What the World Needs Now is Love” and donate proceeds to the GLBT Center of Central Florida. A laundry list of sponsors helped pull off a logistical marvel: 60 extremely busy singers, a 22-piece orchestra and a film crew. The track and the video were recorded, edited and released within a week of the shooting; the song has since hit No. 1 on iTunes. It’s a fantastic example of what our community can do together. You can find the single for purchase, and watch the video, here. #Broadway­ForOrlando, indeed.

As performers, we’re used to showing up to sing when someone needs to raise money for a worthy cause. After Orlando, though, at the end of yet another national tragedy during which we know our prayers are necessary but sense that condolences alone are insufficient, we at Actors’ Equity have determined that we will be taking a more aggressive position on the issue of gun violence.

It’s significant that the Pulse massacre was not even the only high-profile gun death in Orlando that weekend, nor the only one with reverberations for our industry. Barely 24 hours earlier, 22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie was signing autographs at a merchandise table there when a gunman entered the venue and shot and killed her. We spent that Saturday discussing how to respond to what was essentially the gunning down of a performer at the stage door. To our members and theatre fans everywhere, this is a time-honored tradition; that it could so easily turn tragic is a serious motivator for us to stand up and say something. We decided to convene on Monday and talk strategy. Hours later, the larger-scale horrors emerged. And now we believe we must act.

I’ve heard so many of our members wanting to know what they can do to organize and be heard. To them, and to all who are hoping for action, I say that this union will no longer tolerate the status quo. Late last year, I asked our Na­tional Public Policy Committee to consider recommending that Actors’ Equity take a position on this issue. In February, Council authorized the union to lobby for gun legislation reform — adding this to many issues that we’ve championed over the years: fighting the Hollywood blacklist, advocating for civil and voting rights, HIV/AIDS activism, supporting marriage equality and others. All of these issues concern and affect our members. This one, in particular, also affects our workplaces.

In the days and weeks to come, we will be issuing an industry-wide call to action. We cannot afford to wait any­more. As I see it, we can either have this conversation now or after someone shoots up a stage door or a theater. And yes, we recognize the rights of Americans to have reasonable access to firearms for personal use, sport and protection. But when the nearly unfettered ability to buy military-grade weapons creates a situation in which our members are afraid to take the train, walk through Times Square, or go to work, it is incumbent upon us to act.

Enough.


Contact President Kate Shindle at president@actorsequity.org.

 

From the President Archives

President Shindle's Inaugural Column

Labor Day, Unions for Artists and the Value of Unity

When in doubt, ask The Actors Fund

On Gratitude

Unsung Heroes

Changing the World, One Benefit at a Time

Evolution

On Progress

 
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