(Mis)perceptions (2002)

Monday – October 21st, 2002 @ 3:30pm EST

An online roundtable discussion, hosted by the Non-Traditional Casting Project, Inc.

included the following participants:

Tim Bond – Associate Artistic Director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Ashland, OR

Zan Sawyer-Dailey – Casting Director, Actors Theatre of Louisville

Louisville, KY

Todd Haimes – Artistic Director, Roundabout Theatre Company

New York, NY

Carey Perloff – Artistic Director, American Conservatory Theater

San Francisco, CA

(led by)

Kent Gash – Associate Artistic Director, Alliance Theatre Company

Atlanta, GA

Monday – October 21st, 2002 @ 3:30pm EST

Kent Gash:

Here we go…  How do we confront challenges of diversity in our work now, a good 25 years later, from when these initial conversations began? (GA = go ahead to indicate when someone is done talking). GA

Tim Bond:

I think the most important thing is to bring as many people in the institution you are working in, along in the diversity consciousness and to be diligent in making sure that the commitment to diversity is not compromised by competing concerns. GA

Kent Gash:

Tim, what do you mean by competing concerns? And how have you been able to achieve it in the face of those concerns? GA

Tim Bond:

Continuing diversity workshops, frank conversation, taking a leap of faith and making very conscious choices regarding casting, play selection, hiring people of color in all areas of design & production.  Our audience has grown to appreciate and understand the inclusive casting in our Shakespeare productions and look forward to the ethnic specific productions that we have presented. Of course, there is the occasional letter that represents narrower points of view but we thank them for their concerns and continue to invite them to join us in our continuing efforts to be inclusive of as many American cultures as there are.

Kent Gash:

Anyone else with a response? GA

Carey Perloff:

The audience doesn’t seem to be the issue anymore — it certainly was when I got here, but they have gotten so used to seeing a wide range of people on stage that when Steve Jones starred as Scrooge last season, they welcomed it immediately. There are other areas that are much more difficult for us, such as the board. GA

Zan Sawyer-Dailey:

Yes, the audiences are out there. It is also an issue of getting a diversity of actors and directors interested in joining you. The audiences will accept it; the talent is still hard to recruit.

Todd Haimes:

My biggest problem with diversity in casting is not audience acceptance, but directors saying they believe in it but, when push comes to shove, not wanting to do it – particularly with classics.

Tim Bond:

Carey, are you describing difficulty in getting diversity on your board, or support from the board for the diversity that you’re committing to?

Carey Perloff:

I just don’t think the board quite gets why it’s critical that they look more like what our artists now look like. ACT now has a core company which includes out of four actors two African Americans — they are big movers and shakers in the artistic life of ACT, but my board still looks relatively homogenous. GA

Kent Gash:

to Everyone: How can we, NTCP and all of us in the industry, continue to expose, elevate, and nurture the work of promising young directors of color, female directors and directors with disabilities? GA

Tim Bond:

At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival when Libby Appel speaks to our incoming directors, as well as our staff directors, it’s made very clear that particularly when we’re doing Shakespeare, but whenever possible, we are looking to cast as inclusively as possible. This is an institutional policy decision. GA

Carey Perloff:

Personal connections are everything. If you hire one senior artistic person who is a person of color, a whole new group of artists immediately follows. Are you all finding that it’s harder to diversify your staffs?? We find that here in San Francisco–the gay community is hugely represented but, given where we are, we should have a more strongly Asian American staff than we do, for instance. Sometimes I think the issue is what we pay, sometimes I think it’s lack of training, sometimes I think it’s perception, and perhaps it’s all three. GA

Zan Sawyer-Dailey:

It is definitely all three, and very much in that order. We have a very diverse community but little awareness of ATL as a local employer. The perception is that we only hire from outside the community. We are working inside the community with local leads.

Kent Gash:

It’s also community inroads… a community where a theatre’s only presence is “Come buy tickets for our plays” is often liable to be ambivalent. When there is community outreach, community relations; relationships in the community are fostered, then candidates for staff positions and greater interest is generated. GA

Tim Bond:

For us, it’s location, because we are not housed in a diverse community, but we are looking for ways to reach to larger cities to lure people to come here. There also is a dearth of other institutions that have already developed the talents in many areas of people of color, so they’re not out there to be found in the numbers we would like. GA

Zan Sawyer-Dailey:

Anyone want to discuss the issue of non-English speaking audiences?

Tim Bond:

We’re currently involved in outreach to the Hispanic community here in the Rogue Valley, which is our largest population of people of color. Our marketing is going out in Spanish, and we have a person in the box office who can handle Spanish -speaking patrons, and we have a Spanish backstage tour leader, etc.

Carey Perloff:

My feeling is that theater is a language medium, unlike dance and the visual arts, and that we need to celebrate that, which means encouraging people to begin to really listen to theatrical language as opposed to TV speak. Before aiming for non-English speakers, it seems to me there are audiences closer to what we do who would take advantage of theater if the doors were opened– particularly youth theater, which is still something we talk very little about in the American theater but is the best road in for non-traditional audiences, at least in my experience.

Kent Gash:

In response to Carey – at the Alliance, we have a full season of thoroughly supported and fully produced theatre-for-youth productions that are diverse in casting, design and direction and reach a wide range of students all over Georgia. Additionally, they are growing into mainstage subscribers. You have an EXCELLENT point. GA

Zan Sawyer-Dailey:

Tim, have you seen any increase or measure of interest as a result? GA

Tim Bond:

Zan – this is the first year of beginning this targeted effort. We’ve had several functions that have been well attended, but in terms of long-term impact, it’s too early to tell. Our playwright in residence is Octavio Solis from the Bay Area, and we’re producing a play by Nilo Cruz next year – the plays we’ve produced over the last 4 years by Hispanic playwrights have been well received & attended. But I can’t give you specific numbers. One other idea we have coming up is to develop a simultaneous translation that may become available to Spanish speaking patrons through a tech device that is used for our sight-impaired patrons.

Carey Perloff:

Kent, I would love to circulate to you the new scripts for youth that our Young Conservatory has generated, and to see what you’re producing, because these have all been published and represent really edgy surprising work for kids that is not of the Bambi variety and includes a lot of lively wrestling with issues of sexuality, class, etc

Kent Gash:

Bring it on baby, would love it. GA

Zan Sawyer-Dailey:

We have a growing population from Eastern Europe. We have found young audiences to be a conduit to their parents and families. Transportation is an issue for them. We have support from local government to bring them to us and we work through community centers to get out to their resources and needs. GA

Tim Bond:

It seems to me that youth outreach has been the repository of diversity in many of the regional theatres the last 15years. But I still don’t think we’ve progressed as far as we say that we want to on our main stages. GA

Kent Gash:

To Tim – here here, I agree completely. To Everyone: it seems that the hardest group of people to embrace and bring to the work we are doing are those artists with disabilities. Have any of you made new inroads or new relationships with these artists? If so, how? What was it like? GA

Zan Sawyer-Dailey:

We produced a short play in Humana by John Belluso, a writer with a disability. This has started a relationship that we hope will bring more plays by other writers that John is in touch with. It is again, the personal connections. GA

Carey Perloff:

At ACT we’ve focused on the issue intensely in our training program, where we had two deaf actors in our Summer Training Congress and a legally blind student in our MFA program.  It takes a lot of diligence and extra staff to support this well, but we’ve found everyone really willing to do it.

Kent Gash:

Carey, in supporting the legally blind and hearing-impaired students, were there particular challenges that were not anticipated and if so, what advice can you give others? GA

Carey Perloff:

We worked with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges to figure out what the appropriate staffing might be, we had ongoing dialogue with the class as a whole and always had a staff person in class who could sign, we had TWO deaf students so they could also work together and not feel isolated — and we did a project that utilized their talents. In terms of our blind student, we have to work one-on-one with her to make sure she can process the material in a way that works for her. It has to be clear that this will involve time and expense, just like any other special need.

Tim Bond:

I agree with what everyone has said before. I’ve had some wonderful productions in the past when I was in Seattle at the Group Theatre that embraced disability diversity and with actors and plays that we chose. What I found is without a personal connection and an institutional commitment, it’s most likely that you won’t be able to include that in your programming. Institutional commitment (written) is the key to all this.  Otherwise it’s too easy to say, “This is just too hard”. GA

Todd Haimes has left the conversation.

Kent Gash:

Tim – ABSOLUTELY, not only written commitment, but manpower and financial support to follow through; or: commitment of resources is essential. GA

Tim Bond:

Right – which is where the board comes in.  They have to be committed to the importance of diversity in all areas of artistic & staffing, or they won’t approve the committing of the resources it takes to achieve it. Whether they are from diverse backgrounds or not, they have to have their awareness raised. G A

Kent Gash:

Exactly.

To Everyone, Has anyone had any success in accessing diverse businesses as corporate institutions as funding resources? GA

Tim Bond:

We’re currently looking for financial support for an internship program that we’re hoping will help us to increase the diversity of our staffing in the long run.

Kent Gash:

Tim, I’m working on it, even as we speak in Atlanta, but the nature of philanthropy has changed drastically if not disappeared altogether. GA

Tim Bond:

It would be great to find a diverse business partner for this new venture. GA

Carey Perloff:

We did get support from the Irvine Foundation for our mentorship program for young actors of color. I would love to hear more from Tim about the internship ideas, or how we could combine forces to share interns or give them a longer experience.

Tim Bond:

Carey, I’m talking to the head of your conservatory, Melissa Smith, about that very thing.

Carey Perloff:

Great! Thanks, Tim

Kent Gash:

To Carey and Tim re Internship: Great idea w/the idea of sharing a network of interns, especially for staff diversity. GA

Tim Bond:

It would be great to hook up with Atlanta and San Francisco for this, since Southern Oregon is not very diverse.  We really need to bring young people to us.

Kent Gash

To Tim, would love to keep Atlanta part of the loop and be a part of this conversation… now and in the future. GA

Tim Bond:

Kent & Carey — we’ll keep the conversation alive.

Zan Sawyer-Dailey:

Our internship program would also love to be involved in sharing resources staff, ideas, etc.

Kent Gash:

To Everyone: Please keep NTCP abreast of any activity and we will do our best to widen the network.

Carey Perloff:

Absolutely– I could pass along some terrific people who’ve come thru here, but I’d love to shares names and ideas — also for junior staff. And while I am at it, let me make a pitch for ACT’s recent grads– nearly half of each class are artists of color and they are FABULOUS and eager to work!! We’d be happy to send their info to any and all interested parties!!

Tim Bond:

Cool – we will.

Zan Sawyer-Dailey:

Send it on.

Carey Perloff:

Unfortunately I have to go now — I’m leaving for London (gulp!) Many thanks for including me in this. xxx, Carey.

Tim Bond:

We’re particularly looking for non-Equity actors of color that have classical training.

Kent Gash:

To Carey, Ditto. GA

Zan Sawyer-Dailey:

I need to sign off as well. Thanks all, it was very interesting.

Kent Gash:

To Carey, thanx a million, fun in London!

Carey Perloff has left the conversation

Zan Sawyer-Dailey has left the conversation.

.

Tim Bond:

One of our challenges is that many of the actors of color that have that training also have their Equity card, but not very much professional stage experience yet. This is a difficulty in a company with as many actors as we have.

Kent Gash:

Thanks Zan. Tim, based on your earlier comment about our industry not coming as far as we think we have, are there new ways to confront the complacency?

Tim Bond:

Confronting the complacency is the constant challenge.  It has to be a fire burning from within, and in lean times money cannot be the driving argument. That’s what I was saying about competing concerns at the beginning.

Tim Bond:

We believe that inclusiveness makes the work better by having diverse points of view and experiences brought to the table. So therefore the quality will be better, which will in the long run keep us financially solvent.

Kent Gash:

Absolutely.

Tim Bond:

Thanks for getting us involved in this conversation – gotta go now.  Let’s keep talking.

Kent Gash:

Thanks so much.

Tim Bond has left the conversation.

Kent Gash has left the conversation.

end

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