HOW TO BE AN ALLY: Thoughts from the Chicago Theater Community
Good allies. We all need them. We don't all know how to be them. But now is the time to learn. We asked a few eloquent Chicago artists who graciously offered their definition and thoughts. These words come from people who are angry, terrified, sad, frustrated and who want change. Please consider these words with an open heart - our community will benefit tremendously from it.
What do I need my allies to do?
Quit or resign from your current position and recommend that an under represented individual take your place.
Refuse to take work that asks of you to perform a piece that doesn't reflect you in any obvious way (if you are not Latino, don't audition for In the Heights unless there's a role specifically for your nationality and state that you are auditioning for that role AND NOTHING ELSE.)
Bring up in your social circles how uncomfortable you feel that the entire room looks like you and that there are not enough eclectic minds to challenge your ideas and point of views.
Volunteer to ASSIST teaching (meaning you answer to an under represented individual in a position of power) in the south and west side of Chicago who's main demographic is not of your own nationality.
Mentor a young person of color in your field of expertise.
Create a program at your theater / organize a program at your theater that not only comps under represented students their tickets but also provides a stipend for their transportation.
If your creative endeavor involves under represented individuals, consult with at least 5 of them about their perspective on the story you're trying to tell.
When you feel that under represented individuals are asking ridiculous demands, instead of being skeptical, adhere to them for at least 6 months. (TJ Medel)
I think the core of being a good ally is being aware of issues that don't necessarily directly affect you. Listen to other voices. If you don't see/hear them around you, figure out why and seek to do something about that. Also avoid saviour complex...not everyone wants or needs your input or wants to change what they're doing. You can support an artist or venue as they are. Allyship is also really about putting your money where your mouth is. Give money to marginalized artists. Don't expect them to do artistic and emotional labor for free all the time. Tons of us do because we want to and it means something to us, but I think that often lack of "legitimacy" based in racism/sexism/ableism fuels that expectation. Look at your spaces and events. Are they disability accessible? What is your awareness of disability accessibility--do you think that you're wholly accessible because there's a ramp? Do you have captioning or an interpreter? Do you know how to access those services? If your audience spaces are accessible that's great--what about your artists' spaces? Are your dressing rooms and stage entrances accessible? Are your audiences mostly, or entirely, white? Do you know why? Always look at the table you've laid out and think about who you don't see and how to help them feel welcome there. (Terri Lynne Hudson)
For me it's someone who is willing to put their ego aside and listen. A lot of not-listening comes from the "well, not me" defensiveness that <majority members> feel when a critique is leveled at the group with which they identify. If they can step back from that initial reaction they'll be able to see the assumption that we're speaking uncarefully or lowkey targeting them as a facet of their privilege defending itself. So, it's not only the ability to listen that is important, but the ability to, while remaining silent, not be distracted from listening/understanding by their ego.
...Them having done a little homework because they're curious enough to have done the legwork on their own time also goes a long way. Another feature of good allyship is understanding intersectionality because if you're really "down for the cause" you're not down for just one or two of them but fighting for ALL oppressed people to be recognized/respected. It's why the Amy Schumers and Bill Mahers out there do us more harm than good. Their allyship is tainted by the privilege that allows them to be dismissive of some groups while paying lip service to the idea of equality which tends to cause infighting... (Jayson Brooks)
I appreciate an ally who doesn't make assumptions. I'm Persian- so most people ASSUME then that I'm Muslim and put those expectations of knowledge and understanding of that experience on me.
I appreciate an ally who does research. Why I love telling people about where my family is from and my religion (Zoroastrianism), it can get really tiring. Now if someone comes in with a specific question, and doesn't just want me to spell it all out, I really appreciate that. It shows they took the time and cared enough to do a Google search. I'm so much happier to have a conversation that is two sided, not just a teaching moment.
I appreciate an ally who puts their pride aside. If I call someone out for assuming I'm South Asian or Muslim, don't make it about you. Take the correction and try to do better. I do it myself all the time. It's so frustrating when a person gets defensive because then it quickly becomes about me making them feel better. They spend all their energy trying to defend their own sense of morality and stop LISTENING.
The main thing is that every experience is different. And each person might need something different in order to feel safe, feel heard, and feel respected. Come into a conversation with an open heart and mind. And know that if the person needs advice from you, they will ask. As an ally, you need to accept that you are there to support in any way possible. (Vahishta Vafadari)
TJ Medel, a 2015 Second City Bob Curry Fellow, has performed and improvised with Second City, LOL! Theater, The Annoyance and iO. He is an ensemble member with Chicago Slam Works Poetry House Ensemble, Stir Friday Night, Hip-Hop Collective Elephant Rebellion, SoChi Voices, Theater Unspeakable, and the improvised Spoken Word collective PREACH. He is a teaching artist for multiple schools all around Chicago
Terri Lynne Hudson is an actor, improviser and performance artist living and working in Chicago. She has spina bifida.
Jayson Brooks is a musician, poet, and actor whose main pastime is writing love letters to the Chicago arts scene. He has performed with Second City (South Side of Heaven, Letters To Santa); Bailiwick Chicago (Passing Strange, Dessa Rose); Porchlight Music Theater (Ragtime, A Wonderful Life); and done readings with many local companies. He is also the frontman of JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound (a post-punk soul band), and also the K.i.D. (a thetawave r&b project). He sits-in and writes with various bands around the city including Dead River Revival, Chicago AfroBeat Project, Sidewalk Chalk, and Akasha to name a few.
Vahishta Vafadari is an actor and dialect-y/combat-y person around the city of Chicago. She is a graduate from the Theatre School at DePaul with an MFA in Acting and loves being in an artist in this town and in this community. Vahishta is currently working on A Wrinkle in Time at Lifeline Theater with an amazing cast and crew.