Moments of Hope to #ChangeTheStage

By Nicole Smart
Originally Published in the Winter, 2018 issue of Equity News.

We began the New Year at Equity with two events that gave me hope for our shared work to help #ChangetheStage. It started with a Town Hall discussion in San Francisco in January, where we invited local members and a cross-section of other theatre professionals to discuss our study on hiring bias in the theatre industry.

I was encouraged when one member in particular – a stage manager – recounted her difficulty breaking through the old guard network. Panelists responded by engaging in a friendly competition on stage to get her to send them her resume.

I’m excited that we are able to start taking these conversations directly to members in Equity’s Liaison Areas because we want your voices to be heard. I look forward to you joining us for future town halls to be held in the New York and Boston areas. An announcement is forthcoming, so please remember to watch the Member Portal for more information.

I was also encouraged by the conversation we have started as we enter Black History Month at Equity. We kicked off the month’s events with a program called “The Climb: A Conversation with New York Casting Directors about Diversity and Inclusion.”

Panelists Tara Rubin, Kate Lumpkin and Jordan Thaler did a fantastic job helping to shed light on the process of auditioning and casting, and the program provided an opportunity for a group of talented members to explore ways we can work together to make a difference.

While those events offered me hope, there have also already been challenges this year. At a time in our country where we should embrace the richly diverse population now more than ever, immigrants and people of color have been condemned and demeaned by the xenophobic behavior of our President.

As an immigrant, I was reminded that too often as a nation we focus on our differences and forget immigrants make up an integral part of our diverse, thriving communities that make extensive contributions to our country. The President’s remarks are dangerously reckless but also a reminder that while our work to #ChangetheStage is critically important, we also are doing that work in a broader culture where we are too often flying into the wind.

While President Trump may set the wrong example, we will continue our work regardless and look for ways we can advance the cause. I was energized by what I heard when I attended the AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference to honor the legacy of Dr. King. It’s a hard and long journey, but I left the conference more committed than ever to continue our work to help ensure justice and equal rights for Equity members.

Finally, I want to recognize a theatre that is doing good work to help #ChangetheStage. In January, I joined a group of Equity staff and elected leaders to present the Ivy Bethune Award to Bill Rauch, Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for his commitment to diversity and inclusion in hiring, casting and producing choices. While some producers are focused on the challenges, it is clear that Bill Rauch and the company at OSF are focused on taking ownership of the challenge ahead of them. The city of Ashland, Oregon, which is home to OSF, is more than 80 percent white, according to census information, but the OSF resident acting company is now about 70 percent people of color.

Each and every speaker at the ceremony spoke highly of Bill and his commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. The cultural influence of OSF was evident as each speaker referenced their pronouns – words that an individual would like others to use when addressing them such as “she, her, hers” – which helps to foster an inclusive culture.

In presenting the award, Barbara N. Roberts, Equity Councillor and National Second Vice Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee said, “Bill Rauch is a fearless advocate for social justice, dedicated to including all humanity in his work.”

Equity presents a number of awards throughout the year recognizing those individuals and institutions who, like Bill and OSF, are working to create a theatre that speaks to the full diversity of our society. We are currently accepting nominations for the Rosetta LeNoire Award, which is given in recognition of outstanding artistic contributions made by either an individual or institution to the universality of the human experience in the American theatre. Please visit actorsequity.org to learn more about the award and to submit nominations.

Of course, diversity is more than just what a person looks like; it’s about race, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, social and economic status, etc. Simply changing the way we think about diversity takes us a step forward. I’m looking forward to continuing that conversation as we work to #ChangeTheStage.