This week The Chicago Inclusion Project was honored by the Actors Equity Association with the Kathryn V. Lamkey Award at SPIRIT: A Celebration of Diversity, alongside such incredible organizations as 3Arts (a nonprofit organization that advocates for Chicago’s women artists, artists of color, and artists with disabilities who work in the performing, teaching, and visual arts) and The St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre (providing platforms for acting and interpretation of theatre from the Black perspective). Due to Inclusion Project business, the entire staff was unable to attend the event. My husband, Chad, graciously spoke on our behalf. Here's a transcript of the speech I wrote...
The truth is that right now I don't feel too much like celebrating. While there might be more minorities onstage than there were 10 years ago, it still feels like we are getting scraps. Like we should feel lucky that we've been invited to the meal instead of sharing in the creation of the feast. Despite the good intentions, it’s not enough to designate a slot in a season or a "diversity opportunity" in an ensemble show, and this is what it feels and looks like to those wanting to see themselves in the stories we tell together.
There is still real resistance in places that I wouldn't expect to find it. It is still much more of an uphill climb than there should be in 2017: default casting is still white, cis-gendered and able bodied. It's still too easy to automatically imagine a role not designated to a specific body type or ethnicity to be exactly what we have been seeing for ages.
Listen, I do it too sometimes. We've all been conditioned. Implicit bias is real. But we're living in a world right now where artists need to step up and create the counter-narrative. This city, this time and place is truly frightening to so many of us. People are worried for their livelihoods. We make plays. This is not to diminish what our jobs are, but to empower… The very least we artists can do is DEMAND greater representation from every single aspect of our craft.
Producers, board members, ensembles, artistic directors, when it comes time to choose the plays, writers, directors and designers in your season, please remember how far the pendulum has already swung NOT in favor of minorities. For change to really happen, you have to be making room for new voices, and sometimes this might mean getting out of the way. It must be more than adding a minority as an assistant or intern in the room. We have to make a conscious effort to nurture the talent IN OUR CITY that hasn't been recognized throughout our industry's history, and put that talent into real positions where they can have a true platform for their work.
Actors. Speak up. If you're called in for a role you think might be a stereotype or one for which you don't culturally identify or in a play that may potentially be harmful to a community, say something. Have that conversation - with your agent, with the director, with whomever called you in. Your perspective is valid. That discussion is vital to us moving forward together.
I recognize the irony of having a white man speak for me in this instance. But I'll offer it as an example of how we can be allies for each other. Which is desperately needed right now.
I also understand that everything I'm asking you to do poses a threat. Either to you or your position in this industry or your company or your sense of security (whatever that may be for an artist). But it's not a real threat. If we don’t begin to tell different stories in different ways, we are sending the message to minorities that they can or should be erased -- from the community and from the narrative. The real threat is to stay exactly where we are.
I believe deeply in this community and the talent within it. I believe in the work ethic and the desire to do better with every project. And I want to believe that this is the town to change the narrative. We REALLY have to try.
Thank you for this recognition and this honor, words cannot express what it means. Now, let’s get to work.