Teaming up in the spirit of community engagement and celebration of cultures, the non-profit organizations of The Chicago Inclusion Project and The Chicago Cultural Alliance come together in a strategic partnership.

 

Chicago Inclusion Project Founder and Producer Emjoy Gavino announces a new partnership between The Chicago Inclusion Project, a collective dedicated to championing inclusion and diversity in Chicago theatre, and The Chicago Cultural Alliance, a consortium of Chicago-area ethnic museums and cultural centers whose mission is to effect social change and public understanding of cultural diversity through first voice perspectives.

 

The new partnership will expand on an earlier CIP series of salon-style play readings led by Chicago Inclusion Project Program Coordinator Jeff Trainor in neighborhoods throughout Chicagoland, with The Chicago Cultural Alliance now hosting the readings in their many venues throughout the city. The Chicago Inclusion Project will produce the series of performances and post-performance discussions, utilizing its diverse collection of artists to present a collection classical and contemporary texts specifically selected to be in conversation with the cultural center at which each is performed.

 

"We took a great first step with our initial public reading of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life at Victory Gardens Theatre last year," says Chicago Inclusion Project FounderEmjoy Gavino. "Theater patrons and artists were able to experience the kind of inclusive casting that is at the heart of our mission performing together on a major Chicago stage. This expanded series will allow us to reach communities beyond the theatrical community. Teaming up with The Chicago Cultural Alliance gives us the opportunity to bring these stories to more of Chicagoland and to have conversations beyond how inclusion impacts the arts. The Alliance's mission to make an impact on cultural policies and enrich the communities they serve is truly inspiring and will light a fire under everything that we do in the coming year."

 

The project will launch with a play reading on Monday, February 1, 2015, at The OPEN Center for the Arts, 2214 S. Sacramento. Keeping with The Chicago Inclusion Project's goal to make theatrical events inclusive and accessible, this salon reading series will be free. More readings will follow in the coming months, held at additional community-based museums and cultural centers within the Alliance.

 

 

"OPEN Center for the Arts is honored to be hosting this incredible play reading performed by the Chicago Inclusion Project in collaboration with Chicago Cultural Alliance," states Omar Magana, founder of OPEN Center for the Arts.

For more information, visit www.thechicagoinclusionproject.org and www.chicagoculturalalliance.org

 

About The Chicago Inclusion Project

The Chicago Inclusion Project is a collective of artists, committed to creating inclusive theater experiences by bringing together Chicago artists and audiences often separated by ethnic background, economic status, gender identity, physical ability and countless other barriers. By deliberately choosing the unexpected, both in play choices and non-traditional casting, cultivating a diverse audience by bringing new combinations of artists to as many communities in Chicago (and its surrounding suburbs) as possible, choosing facilities for the multiple projects that are handicap accessible and keeping price of tickets affordable, The Chicago Inclusion Project programming aims to unite diverse collections of Chicagoans.

For more information visit www.thechicagoinclusionproject.org.

 

About THE CHICAGO CULTURAL ALLIANCE

The Chicago Cultural Alliance is a consortium of Chicago-area ethnic museums and cultural centers whose mission is to effect social change and public understanding of cultural diversity through first voice perspectives.

The Chicago Cultural Alliance connects, promotes, and supports centers of cultural heritage for a more inclusive Chicago. Our vision is a city where all communities have a voice, and cross-cultural dialogue and collaboration are an integral part of Chicago's civic fabric. Promoting cross-cultural dialogue and collaboration, the Alliance will be the recognized leader in this work. For more information visit  www.chicagoculturalalliance.org

 

ABOUT OPEN CENTER FOR THE ARTS

OPEN Center for the Arts is an artist run organization focused in provide a space where all artists can come together to educate, showcase, refine, and develop their talents as well as support entrepreneurship opportunities in the arts while connecting their growth to the community.

 

For more information visit: www.opencenterforthearts.org

 

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Cathy Taylor

Cathy Taylor Public Relations, Inc.

(773) 564-9564

www.cathytaylorpr.com

 

http://www.broadwayworld.com/chicago/article/Chicago-Inclusion-Project-Partners-with-Chicago-Cultural-Alliance-20160120#

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?

 

January 6, 2016

 

 

A little over a week ago, an article written by Angelica Jade Bastien for The Atlantic made its rounds on social media.  You can read it here for reference.  The article was posted and re-shared, sometimes without comment, sometimes with words of support, a few with arguments adamantly against it.  Bastien poses the question, "when does acceptance [of colorblind casting] become erasure?" and uses the success of Oscar Isaac's acting career as an example.  

 

Because the author touched on so many interesting topics within her piece, we were curious to know how different Chicago artists felt about it.  While some took issue with a few of her statements, we found it an incredible jumping off point for the dialogue we're just now delving into in our community.

 

Below are reactions from actors, writers and directors who generously gave of their time and words.  

 

 

“Color blind [casting] is not a good thing. I am black. I don't want to not be black. But that shouldn't stop you from considering me in a film and allowing my black curly to come through the character. If they are colorblind they can't appreciate you and what you come from. You can't be proud of and share your traditions. You become null, void, which is a form of erasure.” 

 

- Samuel Roberson, actor and artistic director at Congo Square Theatre

 

 

“I understand and see her point, but I also think it's a bit of a fine line. Where do we as artists get to a point where it is a non- issue, because shouldn't it be about the story after all and not the race or ethnicity of the actor? There is no doubt that there are inherit problems with the term ‘colorblind’ casting in general and I agree with that, but we also have to acknowledge that we are seeing actors able to break out of preconceived notions of what they can or should play vs. what will best serve the story they are trying to tell or tell it in a way that embraces a modern audience for today. Do we have enough of it yet? No, but I think if you see all types of artists adapt this mold, then it can not only be good for the industry in general, but to also inspire young artists who wish to emulate their success in being great artists and not just artists of color.” 

 

Anish Jethmalani, Eclipse Theatre ensemble member, actor and director

 

 

“It's interesting because for the most part I've heard this particular argument from white directors who want to justify casting white people for everything unless it is a play that takes place in Asia or Africa.   There is room for more than one way to cast, for more than one way to tell stories. "Color blind casting" is not damning minorities into being erased. But it isn't the only way to solve things.

 

Her point seems to be that she would like race to be addressed in all of those stories. And it doesn't have to - all the time. I didn't need Poe to have a soliloquy about Guatemala in Star Wars.

 

Just like with the Hunger Games casting controversy [with Amanda Stenberg as Rue], they actually created an opportunity for an excellent minority actor by re-imagining the character to make it a more universal story. Not trying to erase ethnicity.”

 

-  Emjoy Gavino, Remy Bumppo ensemble member and casting associate

 

 

“When I read the article, my first response was 'Yes, and....' I think sci-fi/fantasy/future genre stories are well-served by casting that explodes gender/racial/ethnic boundaries.  In a world with robots and aliens, human beings of all colors look more alike than not, which is a huge net positive.

 

In tackling The Grapes of Wrath, it's important for me to connect casting choices to very specific storytelling goals. Given that this story is rooted in true history and classic American literature, I am not looking to deconstruct race or gender, but to place them in historical context. Even if I were to have cast the play with all white actors (which was never on the table), I would have used it as an opportunity to explore and investigate whiteness.  

 

How can we be inclusive, imaginative, specific, and personal all at once - without underrepresenting or erasing identity? It occurred to me that this production of The Grapes of Wrath [coming up at The Gift Theatre] could accommodate as many representational goals as true history allows –not without requiring some stretching, but we can rely on the story to handle it.”

 

-  Erica Weiss, Gift Theatre ensemble member and director  

 

 

“[The article] is loaded but not specific…What it seems to be saying is "Why can't his characters act more Latino?" which is weird.  Maybe I'm missing something, but I think it’s GOOD when an actor is cast and it's not about their race, just, you know, their [talent.]”

 

-  Ike Holter, Inconvenience Theatre company member and playwright

 

 

“The writer is like... "it’s this or this!"…If this happens, then this will happen! It’s so black and white. It’s a complex issue - it requires complex thought. She doesn't understand that. There are no shades of gray in her argument. In Fiddler on the Roof... someone says to Tevye, "this mule is 6 years old," and Tevye says, "You are right." And another guy comes up and says... "This mule is 12 years old," and Tevye says "…ah yes, you are right." And then a third guy comes up and says, “You just told two people that they were right, but they can’t both be right!?

and Tevye says "...Ya know.... you are also right!" There are lots of right ways and wrong ways... it's complex. It’s grey.  We can't be so strict with our thought.

 

The amount of success, featuring people of color right now is astounding... Guardians of Galaxy, Creed, Straight Outta Compton, Star Wars, Master of None, Hamilton...I could go on and on...It’s selling!

 

I see it every day with Disgraced... seeing a wealthy Brown man and a wealthy Black woman on stage as successful lawyers in fancy ass clothes in a 8 million dollar upper east side apartment is inspiring for people of color in the audience every single day. I do the talkbacks every single night and it is brought up 95 percent of the time.

 

-  Behzad Dabu, Timeline artistic associate and actor

 

 

“I do think that we could stand to have more roles written with culture and ethnicity in mind. However, ethnically ambiguous roles don't bother me as much because it is open to interpretation. And we cannot help but bring our personal experience and culture with us in our work, especially when you are creating something new. That's where we, as actors, can to step up and be the voice of change.

 

I am a little torn. It is important to continue to have these discussions about diversity and continue to make the leaders aware of their casting choices…but at the same time, when can we all just be human beings? When can we just see our samenesses and differences and embrace them?

 

I think "colorblind" or "non-traditional" casting was a good first step towards getting diversity on stage and screen. And maybe it is time to take this to the next level, to have "a broader middle ground for actors of color…between stories where race is everything and stories where it's not even an afterthought." Getting some of the leaders and writers of the industry to think different and to take risks isn't always easy. But I think anything is possible including this.

 

The hard part about being only an actor is that everything is dependent on someone else writing roles for you, fitting the director's vision and so on. At the end of the day, I feel like we have to make these changes happen ourselves. Believe that our perspective, our voice is just as important. Believe that we can write our own material, produce, direct it ourselves and/or act in it. Whatever combination, we can achieve anything we dream of. Be the example of change to show them how it's done.”

 

-  Christine Bunuan, actor and director

 

 

What did you think? We'd love to hear from you...

 

 

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