If you have sat around a computer for any length of time over the last five years hashing out any of the ‘issues’ around (particularly) American Theatre you have found yourself invariably infuriated, sullen, and withdraw because the topics are circular and, because the answers are hard, evergreen. I swear I have quit this conversation three or four dozen times over the course of the 7 years I’ve been playing the game.
Trying to find something actionable to help the industry move forward as a relative non-entity in the industry is quixotic on the best day. Framing the discussion in such a way as those with the keys and the wallets don’t shut down out of blame-weariness and take both with them seems impossible.
My modus operandi when noodling with an argument is to treat it the same way we all treated Choose Your Own Adventures when we were younger. Start from a fixed point and keep working down whichever ludicrous solution might be possible until the solution dies (or turns into a shark). What I sometimes forget to do is move the starting point. I accidentally lock myself into my givens and limit the infinite universe.
A simple conjunction reminded me of this over the last few days and honestly I feel a little stupid. The first was reading a defense of white male directing positions in the comments section of a friends’ personal Facebook page. This defender stated outright that these directing positions required high qualifications and commitment, and a process that required high quality applications and other writing. When I stopped following the conversation for blood pressure purposes he was not apparently aware of what he was implying.
The second was tonight as I tried to catch up on my blog backlog and finally got to this February 19th post on Diversity, Equality, Bus Lanes, and Arts. In it Linda Essig calls back the phrase “valuing (versus managing) diversity”. Which is of course where we’re blowing it. And one more thing.
We gather everything that that we regard as positive characteristics and then we pivot, twist, and stretch reality until we (or our theatre) fits every single one of those characteristics. Because it’s not possible we’re not covering something (we are all things to all people) and we can never be wrong. Ever. At the risk of putting words in the mouth of a stranger… The problem that the gentleman in the discussion above is missing is that: he believes that theatre is basically an upstanding meritocracy that we have a little wrong.
Which of course is wrong.
The theatre industry is a meritocracy the way America is post-racial,
but privilege remains hard to see for many of those relying on it and those who can see it often deny it because they believe it somehow diminishes what they’ve done.
But the fervent belief that our systems are (on the whole) the Platonic ideal is why we’re trying to manage more diversity into our ROI charts rather than performing good-faith examinations of our systems for soundness. Diversity (for whichever subgroup you choose) is it’s own reward. This is part of the ever present push in the tension between art and commerce in the industry to have art win a little. Including all of the voices you can fit in your season because it’s the right thing to do, because including those voices is a value in and of itself, not because it pleases your subscribers is a tough sell.
How do we stop treating diversity as a value-add and simply as a value?
How do we convince leaders that they are leaders not just jumped up accountants?
How can we reframe the conversation about diversity to stop trying to change the %10 and really walk back selection and development systems?
Who do we need to get into the conversation to make that effective?