I wanted you to hear this news from me first. This season will be the last for the name "Gypsy Robe." The tradition and the ceremony before opening night of a Broadway musical, in which Equity honors the chorus member with the most Broadway Chorus credits, will continue, but the name will change.
Equity's National Council recommended this week that we retire the name "Gypsy Robe." I supported this change, and as chair of the ACCA Committee, I led the charge at the committee level.
That is not where I started on this issue. If you had asked me when I first joined Equity's Council, I never thought I would sit down to write this message.
When I think of the Robe, I think about the intent behind the tradition, which has become an institution of our community. For over 60 years we have celebrated our members with legs in the business with a fun event on opening night. Many people have received the Robe more than once and some have even passed on receiving it again, so that more of us can feel the pride of an event that celebrates lasting in a business most don’t even get started in.
But here is the reality: this name is no longer appropriate, particularly as we engage in our work to reduce hiring bias in the theatre industry. I hope you will join me and take a moment to consider the difference between intent and impact.
The word "Gypsy" originates as a slur employed against the Romani people. Romani (also called Roma) people didn't travel from place to place because they wanted to. Historically, they traveled because no one, no country, no sovereign state, accepted them. Still today they suffer persecution and are treated as second-class citizens. They obviously didn't have a union behind them negotiating their time or travel conditions or overtime rates.
Good intentions don’t sanitize the huge impact an expression has, and how much the words we use matter. We can – and we will – continue the Robe tradition. But we cannot appropriate someone else’s identity without their voice attached to it. The Robe has carried as its name an insult to people who have literally not been allowed the same kinds of privileges and rights that we all have created a union to defend. That must stop.
History will not go away because of the change of a name. But what we can do is control our own actions. As a union, a collective created to champion actors' rights and be their voice, we must lead by example.
This change may not easy for everyone. But it is right.
Chair, Advisory Committee on Chorus Affairs