Theatre workers have individual milestones: completing a degree, landing that first union gig, founding a company with a dream team of collaborators (and later leaving or dissolving that company), hirings and departures from shows or staffs that alter the course of their personal careers. But the U.S. theatre field as a whole very seldom shares collective milestones—potentially game-changing moments that feel like a hinge of theatrical history. The start of the Federal Theater Project of the 1930s was one, certainly; the Tax Reform Act of 1969, which created the 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, and thereby helped consolidate the emerging regional theatre movement, was obviously another. In the realm of industry-wide wake-up calls, there was August Wilson’s “The Ground on Which I Stand” speech, delivered at a TCG conference in 1996, and last year’s We See You White American Theater demands.
Inarguably one of the biggest pivots in U.S. theatre history was the official recognition of Actors’ Equity Association in 1919 (originally founded in 1913), which went a long way toward professionalizing a cutthroat business and setting standards for workplaces on Broadway, and later Off-Broadway and nationwide. Through the decades AEA has weathered many storms, controversies, and challenges, but arguably none so great as last year’s pandemic, which has touched the work of everyone in every field, but live performance workers acutely so. Not long after the total shutdown of in-person theatre came nationwide protests against anti-Blackness and racial exclusion more broadly, which focused the attention of many (if not all) in the theatre field on their own historic inequities and exclusions.