On Monday, August 17th, Actors’ Equity Association’s Equal Employment Opportunity Committee presented “Worth the Work: Wellness for Black Theatre Professionals,” facilitated by EEOC member & Executive Director of B.Fli Productions Rashada Dawan alongside EEOC Interim Chair E. Faye Butler. As in many industries, Black theatre professionals report disproportionately negative wellness outcomes. This panel discussion, followed by a Q&A, invited theatre and wellness experts to offer on actions and resources that Black Equity members can use to support their overall well-being as they navigate the industry, particularly in these times of pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests for justice and economic collapse.
After a reading of Equity’s resolution on Black Lives Matter, Dawan presented a brief lecture and slide deck that introduced the concept of self-worth, and that despite socio-economic forces that attribute social “worthiness” to pre-conceptions of physical beauty, access to money, and other factors, that people of all skin colors, culture, gender, sexual orientation, identification, height, weight, shape and size are worthy and “worth the work”.
After Dawan’s presentation, she moderated talks on wellness by a panel of Chicago-based guest speakers, who included:
- Dr. Atira Charles, Organizational Behavior Consultant, who spoke on workplace wellness;
- Sharron Lynn Williams, Actor, Dancer, and Yoga Instructor, who presented on physical wellness;
- Deanna Reed-Foster, Actor and Director, who spoke on spiritual wellness;
- Dr. Obari Cartman, PhD, Therapist and Author who presented on mental & emotional wellness; and,
- Jyreika Guest, Actor and Intimacy Coordinator, who spoke on intersectional wellness.
Dr. Atira Charles began her discussion by talking about her close relationship with her Grandmother, who performed in a national tour of the opera Porgy & Bess, from whom she learned of the resilience of theatre professionals and toll that the career takes on their mental and physical health. She also noted that because theatre practitioners often equate their self-worth with performing, that being unemployed during the global pandemic can be especially troubling. Charles reminded participants that, “You will not be reduced by it. Whatever the changes are, whatever the modifications are, whatever the new channels of creative expression become, you are not solely defined by the work that you do, “ Charles said, and added, “I challenge everybody to think about the spirit of what you do, not just the work of what you do.”
Sharron Lynn Williams then spoke on Physical Wellness, emphasizing the importance of mindful breathing for overall health, and led webinar participants through “Alternate Nostril Breathing, a meditative breath exercise from Yoga. Williams also provided a brief and easy to follow Yoga workout that can be performed at home seated in a chair. Williams encouraged participants to find a workout that works for them. “It might be a dance workout or maybe martial arts or yoga. There are so many options”, said Williams. “This is really about filling up. We can't be anything for anyone else out in this world if we're not good.”
Deanna Reed-Foster's talk on Spiritual Wellness first introduced the concept of having a “higher power,” which is inclusive of an individual’s belief or non-belief system. Reed-Foster then spoke of the difference between the spirit and the physical body, and how they work both in tandem and sometimes at cross-purposes. “The physical is limited. But the spirit wants the best. The spirit wants truth.” Reed-Foster also led a guided meditation to assist participants to connect to their spiritual selves.
"Think about the spirit of what you do, not just the work of what you do.”
In his presentation on Mental and Emotional Wellness, Dr. Obari Cartman asserted the importance of the work of artists toward changing the model of therapy for Black people. “There's so many different types of therapy,” Cartman said, “But often what happens for Black people and for People of Color is that the removal of the natural healing elements of communities and cultures that we come from is embedded in the process.” Artists are critical to changing this paradigm of harm through their creativity, innovation, and their ability to bring new perspectives to the healing space through using role plays, music, dance, spoken word, visual art, and more. “Artists have the ability to capture the moment,” said Cartman, “To capture context, nuances, dynamics, and complexities in a two-minute song using emotion, using performance, using the crafting of literacy in ways that really gets to the heart of the matter.”
Finally, Jyreika Guest spoke on Intersectional Wellness, and emphasized the importance of rest. “Especially in the Black community, it's not stressed enough just how much rest is necessary.” Referring to the meditation led by Reed-Foster, Guest said, “We prayed in this talk, but that alone is a radical act. If you are meditating with intention, just know that there are fruitful things to come of it.” Beyond the importance of rest, Guest also stressed that it is also vital, in these unprecedented times, to not “waste the wait,” and encouraged artists to take action to further their careers through learning new skills and fostering community. Guest also noted several organizations in the Chicago area that advocate for the Black LGBTQIA+ communities.
After the guest presentations, Dawan led a robust Question & Answer session between the participants and the speakers, which deepened the understanding of the participants on how to foster wellness in their own lives, careers, and communities. The speakers all noted that this time of great social upheaval also represents great opportunity. “There’s a portal that’s opened that is different than it has been before,” Charles noted,” “Use the moment to gain the opportunities and resources that are skewing in our favor right now. You know, time will tell what the intention on it is, but we all know we're talented enough to do whatever opportunity or resource comes our way. So, take advantage of the moment.”
Actors’ Equity Association members can watch the full webinar in the member portal.