Release Date: January 27, 2021
To Our Community:
We hope that this message finds you and your loved ones safe and hopeful at the start of this new year.
These are extraordinarily challenging times, both for our company and the American theatre field. Artists and other theatre professionals are facing devastating levels of unemployment, institutions that produce theatre are under fierce economic pressure, and all of us are in the tenth month of a forced absence from our continued source of inspiration: the production of plays for live audiences.
But this has also been a time for reflection that offers the potential of renewal and reinvention. In particular, calls for racial justice and reckoning have gripped our country, the world, and our field since this summer. In the theatre, those calls have taken specific form in a series of demands issued from the We See You, White American Theater collective (We See You, WAT). Many artists who have created theatre at Studio for years helped shape these demands, which are a critical and instructive contribution to the well-being of the field and of our company.
It is past time for us at Studio to reckon forthrightly with entrenched inequalities and our role in perpetuating them, to acknowledge shortcomings throughout our theatre’s history and the impact of those shortcomings on valued members of our community, and to create more equity within our organization. We are a predominately white institution with a professed value of inclusion, and while we have diversified some aspects of our art and company in the past five years, we had not fully devoted ourselves to combating racism across the organization or to actively dismantling barriers to the creation and celebration of live theatre by all. We cannot fully fulfill our mission of using theatre to foster a more thoughtful, more empathetic, and more connected community if we do not serve and represent our entire community.
Recognizing that we had work to do, Studio chose to engage in a process of internal conversation and commitment to change-making before we offered this public statement. Since our staff returned from furlough in July of 2020, a committee comprised of the entire senior staff and others throughout the organization has been meeting weekly. This group has been examining our systems, structures, practices, and behavior, using the We See You, WAT demands as our framework. A Board committee, working in parallel to the staff committee, is focusing on questions of governance, membership, and Trustee leadership.
We are also in the process of building the relationships that will inform our formal land and labor recognition process, which will acknowledge that Studio Theatre sits on traditional land of the Piscataway people, that we have benefited from systems created by the free labor of Black people, and that our theatre has played a role in the gentrification of our neighborhood and displacement of Black communities with roots here. As part of that process, we are currently working to create restorative, reciprocal relationships with Indigenous artists and members of the Piscataway tribe, and with people from the Black community with roots in the Logan Circle neighborhood and Black theatre-makers in the DMV area.
All of this work is ongoing, by its nature and because there is much to examine and change. What follows is a list of actions that we will pursue as first steps. We share them publicly to make these changes transparent, and so that you, our community, can hold us accountable to these commitments, and to the process of ongoing change.
The resident theatre movement that created theatres like Studio was born of audacious dreaming. We hope that this challenging moment and its forced pause encourages us, and our field, to dream anew. We hope to help create a changed field, where what we make next and how we make it will be different and better. We are buoyed by the belief that anti-racism can lead to abundance—new and exciting aesthetic approaches and points of view, new stakeholders and audiences, and the ongoing relevance of our work in a rapidly changing world. In short, we believe that this work, challenging as it can and should be, ought to bring us hope, and that its fruits are joy and an environment that helps all members of our community thrive, in art and in life.
To create a more inclusive community and more vibrant art form, we at Studio Theatre will take the following actions, make the following commitments, and set the following goals, starting now:
We commit to creating a space that welcomes BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) theatre-makers and makes them central to our work, nurtures their processes and artistic visions, and fairly compensates them for their work by:
Ensuring that plays by BIPOC theatre-makers are a central part of our programming, producing them regularly and robustly. To that end, we will critically examine our season planning "inputs," with a goal that at least 50% of the work we consider is written by BIPOC artists; diversify the team who reads and recommends plays for programming with at least 50% BIPOC readers in the coming season; continue our current trend of commissioning at least 50% BIPOC artists; and continue to commission directors to propose projects, which is one of the ways we widen the notion of where programming ideas can come from.
Making BIPOC directors, designers, and other theatre personnel a regular part of all of our creative and production teams. That will involve building relationships with and hiring artists we haven’t worked with before; increasing the number of BIPOC artists working on productions not written by BIPOC writers; and actively recruiting and hiring BIPOC production crew.
Empowering BIPOC artists who work here and actively supporting them. We will share information about known members of a production’s creative team with artists considering joining the project; proactively orient new artists to our spaces; and budget for and hire cultural consultants, counselors, conversation facilitators, BIPOC casting directors and consultants, hair/make-up support, and intimacy directors, whenever a project warrants any of them.
Compensate artists and other personnel more fairly and support them more robustly by: paying artists for talkbacks, donor events, and other work done outside of the rehearsal process; eliminating differences in pay for artists working in our Main Series and Studio X programming series; and exploring ways to actively support families and caregivers, such as continuing our practice of not scheduling marathon “10-out-of-12" technical rehearsals, setting and sharing rehearsal schedules in advance, and proactively soliciting requests for how we can better support those in caregiving roles.
We commit to building a shared understanding of systemic racism and anti-racist practices, to infusing that understanding into our work at all levels of the organization, and to dismantling the barriers that have prevented our Board and staff from diversifying by:
Holding regular anti-racism learning sessions and facilitated conversations for staff and Board members, starting with a full-day session in early 2021 with Equity Quotient; integrating anti-racism training into onboarding for new employees and visiting artists; and creating a dedicated budget line to support the trainings, workshops, and facilitated conversations needed to create and maintain an anti-racist organization.
Interrogating and improving processes for recruitment, hiring, and onboarding, aiming to lower barriers for entry and foster a more inclusive workplace. To that end, we will disclose salary ranges for available positions, eliminate educational and years-of-experience requirements from job postings, and institute bias awareness training for hiring managers.
Revising our codes of conduct, “On Working Together,” to better reflect our anti-racist commitment; ensuring that systems for reporting and remedying discrimination and disrespect are in place; supporting affinity groups that staff self-define and encouraging them to meet during working hours; holding regular financial seminars for staff and artists and offering free financial consultants to all active employees; and, recognizing that the work is ongoing, making our EDI committee a standing group that meets regularly, composed of members from all departments and levels of the staff.
Actively seeking out BIPOC Board members that better reflect the diversity of the DC metropolitan region and using the newly-formed Board EDI working group to examine, and recommend changes relating to, a variety of issues, including financial commitments, opportunities for ongoing Board learning and awareness-building, Board composition, and hiring and evaluation of theatre leadership.
Beginning a process to critically examine and restructure our apprentice program, with equity, opportunity, and meaningful mentorship in mind.
Conducting an audit of external vendors and looking for opportunities to better support BIPOC-run businesses and businesses that actively work to advance equity and inclusion.
We commit to building an audience that better reflects the population of the DC-metro area and the work on our stages, and to serving them better, by:
Launching a ticket affordability program to make our work more financially accessible, and reserving more prime seats for single ticket buyers, made available throughout runs of our productions.
Intentionally reaching out to a more diverse audience. That will involve targeting BIPOC audiences in marketing plans for all productions, with resources to support that effort; continuing the work of meaningful audience demand-building, building on the successes of artist Psalmayene 24’s residency at Studio; and involving artists – directors especially – in audience visioning and marketing strategy.
Deepening and broadening engagement with community organizations, including our current partners: CreativeWorks at Joe’s Movement Emporium, DC Public Library, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, the Howard University Department of Theatre Arts, Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, N Street Village, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Team Rayceen, Us Helping Us, and Whitman-Walker Health.
Providing front of house staff and volunteers with learning and training opportunities, including bystander intervention training, to better prepare them to welcome and support diverse audiences.
Using social media to celebrate BIPOC artists and collaborators, share resources, and amplify civic voices that align with our values.
This letter is our first public step after months of internal work. It will not be our last.
We see these plans as a departure point, a series of first steps in what we imagine to be an ongoing, years-long effort. And we acknowledge that there are changes of real importance that remain aspirational for us, like compensating artists and staff significantly better, and eliminating 6-day rehearsal weeks.
We will provide regular updates to our community as our work progresses through direct communication, updates on our website, and information in our annual report.
We will also be soliciting feedback from our constituents to help us improve, inviting them to share with us their experiences with Studio and their ideas. Should you have any thoughts or concerns to share with us, please do so. We welcome them.
Thank you for joining us on this journey to make Studio more inclusive, more equitable, and more vibrant.
Rebecca Ende Lichtenberg