December 30, 2016

Business manager of The Chicago Inclusion Project, Elana Elyce offers her favorite things that happened in Chicago theater this year as well as her wishes for next year...

So long 2016!  Many people are so pissed at you!! You weren’t all bad.  You showed promising signs of growing in Inclusion in the Arts.  Here are some of my fondest reflections:

1. United Flight 232 directed by Vanessa Stalling with The House Theatre of Chicago- I lived and breathed this project for several months. I still live the experience every day.

​2. How We Got On directed by Jess McLeod with Haven Theatre Company- this small cast of four toes the line a bit regarding Inclusion, but showcasing three young people who are making serious waves with their talent, professionalism and just plain likability, gives promise to the future of Chicago theatre.  

3. Roundtables and panel discussions aplenty- although I was not able to attend all of the events popping up to address casting issues in the city, just knowing they occurred is encouraging. People are serious about change and are putting time and energy into making the noise that will lead to long term change. 

4.  A different kind of outreach- I am used to being contacted as the only black person a company’s producers may know and as a result am asked to do or recommend folks for various projects.  In 2016, I have started to be asked to meet to discuss how to go about me not being the only point of contact. (It’s not been said that way, but meeting to chat about what a company/producer can do versus them just asking for referrals is a step in the right direction.)

5. The Nutcracker directed by Tommy Rapley with The House Theatre of Chicago- even tho I only saw this only days before writing this, it was Inclusive, it was moving, it was funny and just a delightful piece of theatre to end the year with.

6. Along with six amazingly talented incredible  humans, I was welcomed as a company member of The House Theatre of Chicago.

Here comes 2017!! Things can only get better.  Right?

In the new year I hope for:

  1. More underrepresented actors to show up to auditions they may have felt unwelcome to in the past. Get in the room. Be seen. We are fighting for you and need your help!

  2. Broader thinking in casting. This is on repeat and will be until it is no longer necessary. Try something different. It’ll probably be awesome.

  3. More honest open dialog that results in action. We’ve talked long enough.

  4. A collective recognition that underrepresented actors can be cast in roles that are just humans; that an actor in a wheelchair can play a person and a human of color can, y’know, portray a person. Let us not create limitations where there are none.

  5. The broad understanding that the work we are doing towards Inclusion is about creating opportunities-not taking any away from anybody. There is enough art for all of us, if we allow and nurture it as such.

  6. Chicago theatre to start to have more Inclusion OFF stage: casting folks, stage managers, designers, house managers, board members. The impact of this is only positive and guess what? Having that will influence production and casting choices going forward. Think "be the change you want to see."

January 16, 2016

 

In 2015 I was forced to see the state of our stages through altered eyes.

 

For my entire career I have enjoyed opportunities that I hadn't fully realized were limited. I grew up seeing Black people on television so frequently that representation did not appear to be lacking. As a child I watched Sesame Street and Electric Company, two extremely influential shows that featured people of color. I grew up with Sanford and Son, Good Times, What's Happenin', The Jeffersons, 227, Amen, Gimme a Break, Benson, Roc, Family Matters, and of course The Cosby Show, A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Living Single and In Living Color. There are many shows that I did not watch, but with this many shows starring Black people on my television daily, I can't imagine feeling like I didn't see myself represented.  

 

Prior to college, all of my professional training came from predominantly Black professional, working artists, in Detroit. In fact, the only non-Black coach/director I had growing up was Rick Sperling, Founder of Mosaic Youth Theatre-it cannot be doubted that he had my best interest at heart. I was never taught that there would be obstacles I would have to destroy in order to succeed in acting as a Woman of Color. I was taught that opportunity and possibility were everywhere and that I needed to show up, be prepared and do the work.

 

Now... I continue to enjoy opportunities, but I am muddling through my newly gained understanding of the larger reality. Let me be clear: I'm not an idiot. Of course I have always been aware of the "be more Black," "you're Asian? Okay, be Chinese," and "hey Latino, you're a Mexican thug" types of problems rampant in our industry. These stories have been shared with me over time and in contexts that never prompted any action from me, beyond my nod of acknowledgment and maybe "dang, that's fucked up."  

 

2015 was quite the trying year in theatre around the world. Some producers and directors have taken the message of Inclusion and decided that it means that the majority should be able to play other ethnicities under the guise of "colorblind casting." Apparently there are fictional stories with "historical accuracy" and every day there is a new article or blog post highlighting some outlandish experience. Without The Chicago Inclusion Project, I fear I may have continued to miss the magnitude of the problem.

 

When we began, my position was quite firmly on the side of the artist, wanting to push the idea that more options are available when you show up. Having directed and cast a few shows, sat in on auditions and been consulted for recommendations, I've been acutely  aware of our absence in auditions when race or ethnicity was not specified.  I've been shocked at the low attendance of people of color and wanted to highlight this as part of the problem. I wanted to be the voice that emphasized what I believe is a fundamental approach to the game: GET IN THE ROOM.

 

Gratefully, our work over the last  year has shown me that it takes so much more than that. I still firmly believe you gotta make yourself known.  However, I now better understand how the entities also have some responsibility in this. It baffles me that any producer or director working in the city of Chicago for any period of time can say they know no actors of color. I am stunned by the companies who are expressing interest in making changes but don't go see the shows that intentionally have diverse casts, or any productions by any Latino, Black or Asian theaters in the city. They want someone to come to them and give them a solution. Or bring them people. The countless audition postings that emphasize they are looking for all ethnicities and still hire all White casts, even when we do show up.

 

It's 2016. I have matured as an artist and am ready to tackle these issues. With TCIP I am ready to help show how talented people can tell the stories of people on stage, and that people means humans regardless of physical ability, gender identity, ethnicity or race. I am ready to read more plays. I am ready to seek out lesser known works by writers of color. I am ready to make noise. I am ready to encourage others to make noise.

 

Like I learned back in Detroit, I'm gonna show up, be prepared and do the work with TCIP that will change the norm. And the world. I'm ready.

 

Are you in?

 

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